This short hymn dates to the 14th century, and has sometimes been attributed to Pope Innocent VI (d 1362).

Ave, verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine: vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine: cuius latus perforatum unda fluxit et sanguine: esto nobis praegustatum, in mortis examine. O dulcis, O pie, O Jesu, Fili Mariae. Miserere mei. Amen.

Translation: Hail the true body, born of the Virgin Mary: You who truly suffered and were sacrificed on the cross for the sake of man. From whose pierced side flowed water and blood: Be a foretaste for us in the trial of death. O sweet, O gentle, O Jesu, son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen.

William Byrd’s setting of this text was written to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which had been outlawed in England in 1548 following the Reformation. But Roman Catholics still surviving in England continued to celebrate the feast secretly. Byrd wrote a dozen pieces for this festival, Ave verum corpus being the best-known.

Carol Buxton

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