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Morning over the bay

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Plough Music Series

Colin Fields


On March 25, many churches celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the moment when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary of Nazareth that she would be the mother of God (Luke 1:26-38). It was Mary’s answer – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” – that opened the way for Christ to be born. Coming in the season of Lent and Easter, this feast links the earliest tiding of Jesus’ life on earth with his last days. As John Donne explained in his Christmas sermon of 1626:

The whole life of Christ was a continuall Passion; others die Martyrs, but Christ was born a Martyr. He found a Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlem, where he was born; For, to his tendernesse then, the strawes were almost as sharp as the thornes after; and the Manger as uneasie at first, as his Crosse at last. His birth and death were but one continuall act, and his Christmas-day and his Good Friday, are but the evening and morning of one and the same day.

In this sense, Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel was the beginning of a way of costly discipleship that some thirty years later would lead her to witness her son’s execution on the cross (John 19:16-27). As she had been warned shortly after Jesus’ birth: “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Inspired by these words, the anonymous thirteenth-century author of the Stabat Mater meditated on Mary’s suffering during the crucifixion in a poem still loved today. Included below in Latin and English, this poem is a prayer that we may love the crucified Christ with the depth of a mother’s love.

Giovanni Pergolesi spent the final months of his life in a Franciscan monastery – he was dying of tuberculosis – and it was there in 1736 that he composed his superb setting of the Stabat Mater. This 2009 recording by Les Talens Lyriques, conducted by Christophe Rousset, features soloists Sabina Puertolas (soprano) and Vivica Genaux (mezzosoprano).

Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrymosa
Dum pendebat Filius.

Cujus animam gementem
Contristatem et dolentes
Pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater unigeniti.

Quae morebat et dolebat
et tremebat cum videbat
Nati poenas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret
Christi Matrem si videret
In tanto supplicio?

Quis posset non contristari
Piam Matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in tormentis
Et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem natum
Morientem desolatum,
Dum emisit spiritum.

Eia Mater fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac ut tecum lugeam.

Fac ut ardeat cor meum,
In amando Christum Deum
Ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater istud agas
Crucifixi fige plagas
Corde meo valide.

Tui nati vulnerati
Jam dignati pro me pati
Poenas mecum divide.

Fac me vere tecum flere
Crucifixo condolere
Donec ego vixero.

Juxta crucem tecum stare
Te libenter sociare
In planctu desidero.

Virgo, virginum praeclara
Mihi jam non sis amara
Fac me tecum plangere.

Fac ut portem Christi mortem
Passionis ejus sortem
Et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari
Cruce hac inebriari
Ob amorem Filii.

Inflammatus et accensus
Per te Virgo sim defensus
In die judicii.

Fac me Cruce custodiri
Morte Christi praemuniri
Confoveri gratia

Quando corpus morietur
Fac ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria. Amen.

The mother stood sorrowing
by the cross, weeping
while her Son hung there;

Whose soul, lamenting,
sorrowing and grieving,
has been pierced by the sword.

O how sad and afflicted
was that blessed
Mother of her only-begotten Son.

Who wept and grieved
and trembled to behold
the torment of her glorious child.

What man would not weep
if he saw the Mother of Christ
in such torment?

Who could not be sorrowful
to behold the pious mother
grieving with her Son?

For the sins of His people
she saw Jesus in torment
and subjected to the whip.

She saw her sweet Son
dying, forsaken,
as He gave up the spirit.

Ah Mother, fount of love,
let me feel the force of grief,
that I may grieve with you.

Make my heart burn
with the love of Christ, the God,
that I may be pleasing to Him.

Holy Mother, bring this to pass,
transfix the wounds of Him who is
crucified firmly onto my heart.

Of your wounded Son,
who deigns to suffer for my sake,
let me share the pains.

Make me truly weep with you,
grieving with Him who is crucified
so that I may live.

To stand by the cross with you,
to be freely joined with you
in lamentation, I desire.

Virgin of virgins, resplendent,
do not now be harsh towards me,
let me weep with you.

Let me carry Christ's death,
the destiny of his passion,
and meditate upon his wounds.

Let me suffer the wounds
of that cross, steeped
in love of your Son.

Fired and excited
by you, O Virgin, let me be defended
on the day of judgement.

Let me be shielded by the cross,
protected by Christ's death,
cherished by grace.

When my body dies,
let my soul be given
the glory of paradise. Amen.

Browse more selections from the Plough Music Series.

annunciation by Lorenzo Costa The Annunciation to Mary, Lorenzo Costa