Monday, April 18, 2022

O Ecclesia

Sequence for St. Ursula and Companions (D 168v-169r, R 477rb-vb) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1a. O Ecclesia,
oculi tui similes saphiro sunt,
et aures tue monti Bethel,
et nasus tuus est sicut mons mirre et thuris,
et os tuum quasi sonus aquarum multarum.

1b. In visione vere fidei
Ursula Filium Dei amavit
et virum cum hoc seculo reliquit
et in solem aspexit
atque pulcherrimum iuvenem vocavit, dicens:

2. In multo desiderio desideravi ad te venire
et in celestibus nuptiis tecum sedere,
per alienam viam ad te currens
velut nubes que in purissimo aere currit similis saphiro.

3a. Et postquam Ursula sic dixerat, rumor iste
per omnes populos exiit.

3b. Et dixerunt: Innocentia puellaris ignorantie
nescit quid dicit.

4a. Et ceperunt ludere cum illa
in magna symphonia,
usque dum ignea sarcina
super eam cecidit.

4b. Unde omnes cognoscebant
quia contemptus mundi est sicut mons Bethel.

5. Et cognoverunt etiam
suavissimum odorem mirre et thuris,
quoniam contemptus mundi
super omnia ascendit.

6a. Tunc diabolus membra sua invasit,
que nobilissimos mores in corporibus istis occiderunt.

6b. Et hoc in alta voce omnia elementa audierunt
et ante thronum Dei dixerunt:

7a. Wach! rubicundus sanguis innocentis agni
in desponsatione sua effusus est.

7b. Hoc audiant omnes celi
et in summa symphonia laudent Agnum Dei,
quia guttur serpentis antiqui
in istis margaritis
materie Verbi Dei suffocatum est.
1a. O Church!
Like sapphire are your eyes,
Mt. Bethel are your ears,
your nose a mount of myrrh and frankincense,
your mouth the sound of many waters.

1b. In true faith’s vision
did Ursula with God’s Son fall in love—
a husband with the world did she abandon,
to gaze instead upon the sun
and call upon the Fairest Youth to say:

2a. “With deep desire have I desired to come to you,
to sit with you at heaven’s marriage feast—
I’m racing by a different way to you,
like a sapphire cloud that races ‘cross the clearest sky.”

3a. When Ursula had made this declaration,
report of it went out through all the people.

3b. And they declared, “The innocence of girlish ignorance
knows not of what it speaks.”

4a. And they began in concert to
make fun of her—
until the fiery weight
fell on her shoulders.

4b. For then they recognized
that such contempt for the world is as Mt. Bethel.

5. They also recognized
the sweetest secent of myrrh and frankincense,
for contempt for the world
mounts over all.

6a. But then the devil seized their limbs,
to slay the virgins’ noblest bearings with their bodies.

6b. And this with piercing cry heard all the elements
and ‘fore God’s throne declared:

7a. Ach! The scarlet blood of the innocent Lamb
to pledge his troth is shed.

7b. And all the heavens hear this
and praise the Lamb of God in symphony supreme,
for the ancient serpent’s throat
is choked upon these pearls
compiled from the Word of God.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

A Note on the Text
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Our edition of the text departs from Newman’s by introducing the paired strophes that are traditional features of the sequence. Hildegard never composed any regular sequences, in which each verse pair uses the same melodic line. But within the irregular form of her sequences, paired strophes do usually share some musical parallels (cf. O ignis Spiritus paracliti). In this sequence, these repeated motives usually come at the opening of each verse pair. The beginning of each verse is, moreover, marked in the manuscripts with a rubricated initial, and we have followed those divisions. Newman’s edition missed the initial that marks Et dixerunt (verse 3b above) as its own verse, and thus she combines verses 3a and 3b together (verse 4 in her edition).

Verses 2 and 5 are exceptions to the standard form, as the verses as marked in the manuscripts are musical orphans. However, both contain internal sets of repeated motives that could be understood as fulfilling the sequence form. In Verse 2, the melody of the final line (velut nubes que in purissimo aere currit similis saphiro) makes variations on the opening line (In multo desiderio desideravi ad te venire). The melodic parallels are less thorough in Verse 5, but the use of the common leap of a fifth (A-E) at the opening of the verse and then again with quoniam would suggest a possible point for construing a strophic subdivision.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: A
Range: E below the final to C an octave and a third above
Setting: primarily syllabic

Musically, this lone sequence is fairly straightforward. The primary tones used for punctuation/phrase delineation are A and E. The interval A to E is commonly used to open phrases.

There are quite a few discrepancies between the sources, and so in order to make reading easier, I have inserted a number of ossia staves rather than notes above the lines. As is our custom, the only capital letters included in the text of the transcription are those that also appear in the manuscripts; no editorial ficta have been added.

It would likely be useful for singers to compare the sources regarding the use of Bb so as to better inform their decisions as to where to add Bb.

Further Resources for O Ecclesia
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 238-244 and 312-314.
  • Flanagan, Sabina. “Die Heiligen Hildegard, Elisabeth, Ursula und die elftausend Jungfrauen.” In Tiefe des Gotteswissens - Schönheit der Sprachgestalt bei Hildegard von Bingen. Ed. Margot Schmidt. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog, 1995, pp. 209-22.
  • Flynn, William. “Hildegard (1098-1179) and the Virgin Martyrs of Cologne.” In The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. Ed. Jane Cartwright. University of Wales Press, 2016, pp. 93-118.
  • Martin, J., and G. Hair. “O Ecclesia: the Text and Music of Hildegard of Bingen's Sequence for St. Ursula.” Tjurunga: an Australasian Benedictine Review 30 (1986), 3–62.
  • Walter, Peter. “Die Heiligen in der Dichtung der hl. Hildegard von Bingen.” In Hildegard von Bingen, 1179-1979. Festschrift zum 800. Todestag der Heiligen. Ed. Anton Ph. Brück. Mainz: Selbstverlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1979, pp. 211-37, at 223-29.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography