Hymnarium Cisterciense

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The Hymnarium Cisterciense is a liturgical book that is used during the Liturgy of the Hours of the monks and nuns of the Cistercian Order . It includes hymns , solemn songs of praise and praise sung at a highlighted moment in a time of prayer. They are particularly important in the Cistercian chorale because the founding monks of the order attached great importance to the musical quality of these compositions.

The first Cistercians and their hymns

Around 1100 the first Cistercians used the liturgical texts they brought with them from Molesme when Cîteaux was founded . Characteristics of the monastic culture under the founding abbot Stephan Harding were an urge for authenticity and the striving for the most faithful observance of the Benedictine Rule (RB). So around 1108 they sent copyists from their ranks to Milan: they were supposed to make a copy of the hymnarium, which was considered the original copy of St. Ambrose . The result was a hymn of 34 texts with 19 different melodies. It was in use for about 20 years, but it wasn't quite satisfactory to users. The monks took no pleasure in the frequent repetitions and the Ambrosian melodies, which sounded strange to Burgundian listening habits. Therefore, at the end of the reign of Abbot Stephan Harding, towards the end of the 1130s, the General Chapter commissioned Bernhard von Clairvaux to revise the book.

Reform under Bernhard von Clairvaux

Bernhard and his employees adhered to Stephan Harding's solemn ordinance. The following observation became her starting point: The rule speaks four times of the so-called Ambrosianum , in connection with the vigils (RB 9.4), the lauds (RB 12.4; 13.11) and the Vespers (RB 18.8). In the case of the small hearing, however, she uses the term hymn . Based on this finding, 21 non-Milanese texts were added to the hymnarium, which were reintroduced for the cycles and feasts, but for the third and compline . All these texts were already found in the Molesme Hymnarium, with the exception of Summi largitor ; Now it was again possible to tune in to great classics, such as Vexilla regis in Holy Week, Conditor alme in Advent or Quem terra pontus at the Marian feasts. Since the same principles were upheld as the first generation, the 34 simple hymns were retained, but with some text variants for the sake of teaching accuracy. In order to achieve greater diversity in the texts, they were divided according to a principle that was common at the time: the hymn was sung in full for Vespers, but only half for the vigils and laudes.

The melodies were treated more freely: most of them were modified, six were completely eliminated, and others, mostly traditional ones, were newly introduced. Waddell has identified seven new melodies, the last four of which are genuinely Cistercian creations: Optatis votis omnium , Almi prophete (now in Aurea lucis ), O quam glorifica , Deus tuorum militum , Mysterium ecclesiae , Iesu nostra redemptio and Iam Christ astra - all very expressive and of high emotional intensity. This results in a collection of 55 texts on 37 melodies, which were very faithfully handed down to the Tridentine Council. The hymnarium has only a few additions due to the introduction of new liturgical feasts: Corpus Christi, Solemnity of St. Bernard, the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, the feasts of St. Anna, St. Joseph and that of the holy guardian angels .

The Tridentine Reform

In 1656, as a result of the Council resolutions of Trento , Abbot Claude Vaussin published the Breviarium cisterciense iuxta ritum romanum : all the festive hymns of the Third and Compline, with the exception of the Veni Creator , were now postponed to the great prayer times (Lauds and Vespers). The melodies of the previous hymnarium were nonetheless retained, although some new Cistercian poems appeared in the Office: the hymns created for the feast of all religious saints, for example, or Jesu dulcis memoria , in the 12th century by an English Cistercian for the name of Jesus -Firmly sealed. The Ambrosian tradition largely went under, and one has to wonder whether the Cistercians still attached any value to it. What is striking is the intention with which they maintained considerable text variants or even different hymns for the coined periods, but for the entire weekday week, however, a single hymn at vigils, lauds and Vespers, instead of providing a separate hymn for each day like the Roman Breviary .

The 20th century

During the 20th century, liturgical renewal a. a. the Ambrosian treasure also came to light again, so that it found space in the Roman breviary of 1974: Veni Redemptor gentium , Iam surgit hora tertia , Hic est dies verus Dei , to name but a few. The directions given by the Second Vatican Council (text criticism, historical-critical method, renewed theological foundation, text variants) also motivated the editors of the new Roman Breviary to revise the texts in use or to replace them with new ones, especially for the festivals of saints. Since then, the Cistercian convents have endeavored, according to their different preferences, to achieve a harmonious synthesis of preserving the Cistercian heritage and adapting it to the needs of our time and the liturgy of the universal Church.

Digital copies

20th century editions


  • Bernard Kaul, Le Psautier cistercien, Collectanea 13 (1951), 257-272.
  • Eugène Willems, Esquisse historique de l'Ordre de Cîteaux, 1958, 230-233.
  • Chrysogonus Waddell , The twelfth century cistercian hymnal, 1984.
  • Alicia Scarcez, Liturgie et musique à l'Abbaye Cistercienne Notre-Dame de la fille Dieu (Romont): histoire et catalog des sources de sept siècles de vie chorale (Spicilegii Friburgensis Subsidia 25, Friborg 2015).