The Stabat Mater

The Stabat Mater is a liturgical hymn of the Catholic Church, written by Jacopone in Latin, that is, in the language of religious celebrations of his time.

In Jacopone’s inspiration, the drama of the Virgin Mary is an icon of human pain, because there is no greater pain than that of a mother who witnesses the torture and killing of her child. It is a drama that has been repeated thousands of times in history: for this reason, Jacopone’s verses have moved people of every country and every creed, religious or agnostic, inspiring many masterpieces of sacred music. With over 500 musical settings, spanning five centuries, Jacopone’s text has been set to music more than any other poem in the history of music. There is even a very fine website, The Ultimate Stabat Mater Website (https://stabatmater.info/ ), entirely devoted to the richness of the many versions of the Stabat Mater.

In a recent text dedicated to the poetry and language of the Stabat Mater, an Irish author [Desmond Fisher, STABAT MATER: The Mystery Hymn (Gracewing, UK, 2015)] commented on the first tercet of the poem:

Stabat mater dolorosa

Juxta crucem lacrimosa,

dum pendebat filius.

«“In Latin, the sonorous quality of those first nine words is stunning. The regular beat and the softly rhyming polysyllable words give the three short lines a depth and strength no translation could surpass.”

Desmond Fisher maintained that poetry of such extraordinary quality can only have been produced by a great poet, such as Jacopone da Todi. A century before Fisher, Evelyn Underhill expressed roughly the same opinion.