A Song Fit for a Pope: Charles Gounod’s Great Pontifical Anthem

A Song Fit for a Pope: Charles Gounod’s Great Pontifical Anthem August 8, 2015

Vatican flag

So there is such a thing as a “Papal Anthem”? Who knew?!

The Papal Anthem–more formally titled the Pontifical Anthem and March–is played to mark the presence of the Pope or one of his representatives, such as a nuncio, and on other solemn occasions. The first eight bars are played whenever the Vatican’s flag is raised.

Despite the title of the YouTube video I’ve included here, the Vatican does not call this a “national anthem.” It is a composition, they explain, whose words and music “speak to the heart of many throughout the world who see in Rome the See of Peter.”

The march is the creation of French composer Charles Gounod, who composed the instrumental piece in three parts for the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s priestly ordination. Pope Pius XII declared it the official papal anthem in October 1949, replacing Viktorin Hallmayer’s 1857 composition Marcia trionfale.

When the Vatican City State was founded in 1929, the Hallmayer work became the new state’s anthem. Gounod’s anthem, Marche pontificale, was played for the first time on Christmas Eve 1949, one day before the Holy Year 1950. The old anthem, Marcia trionfale, was played too, signalling continuity and as a sign of respect.

At the time the pontifical anthem was introduced, Antonio Allegra–who was then one of the organists for St. Peter’s Basilica–composed Italian lyrics for the Gounod piece to be sung by the Vatican Choir. In 1991, Maestro Raffaello Lavagna, a Catholic priest from Savona, wrote Latin lyrics for a four-voice choir, to accompany an arrangement by Alberico Vitalini.

Here, for your listening pleasure, is the Sistine Chapel Choir’s performance of Marche Pontificale. The English-language lyrics are below.

O happy Rome – O noble Rome
You are the seat of Peter, who shed his blood in Rome,

Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given.
Pontiff, You are the successor of Peter;
Pontiff, You are the teacher, you confirm your brethren;
Pontiff, You who are the Servant of the servants of God,
and fisher of men,
are the shepherd of the flock,
linking heaven and earth.

Peter, You are the vicar of Christ on earth,
a rock amidst the waves,
You are a beacon in the darkness;
You are the defender of peace,
You are the guardian of unity,watchful defender of liberty;
in You is the authority.

SOPRANOS, ALTOS

Pontiff, you are the unshakable rock, and on this rock was built the Church of God.

TENORS, BASSES

Peter, You are the vicar of Christ on earth,

a rock amidst the waves,
You are a beacon in the darkness;
You are the defender of peace,
You are the guardian of unity,
watchful defender of liberty;
in You is the authority.

CHOIR

O happy Rome – O noble Rome.

 

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  • LizEst

    Thank you for that, Kathy! That is both impressive and moving!

  • Well, it’s unlikely we would ever hear that during an Olympics award ceremony, unless the Cardinals can one day field a really good basketball team. Or maybe the Holy Father might be able to win the 100m backstroke. 😉 It sounds like a typical national anthem, not very exciting. Most national anthems are boring. We’re actually spoiled with ours in the US. Thanks Kathy. I may post that myself on my blog, if you don’t mind.

  • I just went and listined to the Papal Anthem that was replaced in 1949, the Marcia trionfale Hallmayer, and I found that to be a much more interesting piece of music. It’s only drawback is that I can see anything Papal about it. Just interesting music. Here.

    https://youtu.be/9PemVo7w2Sg