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By the beginning of the tenth century the impulse given to the arts by Charlemagne had gradually died out and the state of society had become so disorganized that for two centuries after the time of Notker the field of literature was comparatively barren. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, mark a great change and form an era of rapid growth. Germany was now ruled by the Hohenstauffens, whose dream it was to prove themselves true heirs of Charlemagne by re-establishing the Empire of the West. As a result of their participation in the common life of Christendom, very largely through the influence of the crusades, came the development of chivalry and a national literature, the first great outburst of German poetry and song. A large class (more than two hundred) of minnesingers sprang up who glorified earthly and heavenly love and the Virgin Mary as the type of pure womanhood. In the church too the voice of native song now made itself heard. The "Kyrie eleison" and "Christe eleison" which passed from the Greek church into the Latin, as a response of the people, to be repeated over and over again, especially on the high festivals, were popularly enlarged, and these brief poems were called from the refrain "Kirleison" or "Leisen," also "Leichen."1818It is possible that instead of being a corruption of the Greek phrase the word may have denoted at first a certain dance measure. Cf. Grimm: Deutsches Wörterbuch, Vol. VI. These sequences, for such they were, were the first specimens of German hymns which were sung by the people. The oldest dates from the end of the ninth century and is called the "Leich vom heiligen Petrus." It has three stanzas, of which the first reads:

Unser trohtin hat farsalt
sancte Petre giwalt
Daz er mag ginerjan
zeimo dingenten man.
Kyrie eleyson! Christe eleison.1919"Our Lord hath given St. Peter power that he may preserve the man who hopes in him."

The twelfth century produced the "Salve Caput cruentatum" of Bernard of Clairvaux,--a hymn which has come to us by Paul Gerhardt,2020Cf. p. 86 and note. whose own hymn writing is wonderfully affected by Bernard.


In the following century appeared two widely celebrated compositions, the "Dies irae" and the "Stabat Mater dolorosa." These, as well as many others of the best Latin hymns, such as the "Te Deum" and the "Gloria in excelsis," were repeatedly translated. Occasionally words of the original Latin were introduced into the vernacular as in the Christmas hymn:

In dulci jubilo
Nu singet und seyt fro!
Unsres Herzens Wonne
Leyt in presipio
Und leuchtet in gremio.
Alpha es et O.

The mystic school of Tauler, in the fourteenth century produced a number of hymns full of glowing love to God. Tauler is the author of the Christmas poem, "Uns kommt ein Schiff geladen" and the hymn of Self Renunciation, "Ich musz die Creaturen fliehen," both of which have passed into English, the best versions being those of Miss Winkworth.2121Cf. Christian Singers of Germany.

Of unusual sweetness and abiding worth are the hymns of Heinrich von Laufenburg, the most important and prolific hymn writer of the fifteenth century. Many are in intricate metres, while others are transformations of secular songs into religious songs. His cradle hymn, "Ach lieber Herre Jesu Christ," is a beautiful prayer of a mother for her infant child, and has become well known in England through Miss Winkworth's translation.

German hymnody of the Middle Ages is, like the Latin, overflowing with the worship of the saints and the Virgin who is even clothed with divine attributes and is virtually accorded the place of Christ as the fountain of grace. In characterizing the period Wackernagel says2222Das deutsche Kirchenlied, II, p. 13.

"Through all the centuries from Otfrid to Luther we meet with the idolatrous worship of the Virgin Mary. There are hymns which teach that she pre-existed with God at the creation, that all things are created in her and for her and that God rested in her on the seventh day."

One of the favorite hymns to the Virgin, "Dich Frau von Himmel, ruf ich an," Hans Sachs subsequently changed into "Christum vom Himmel ruf ich an," a change strikingly characteristic of the effect which the Reformation exerted upon the worship of the Virgin Mary. It substituted for it the worship of Christ as the sole Mediator through whom men attain eternal life.

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