The Sorbian Hymn

The Sorbian Hymn by Dr. Gerald Stone first appeared in 1993 in Perspektiven sorbischer Literatur (ed. W. Koschmal), 79-95. Cologne-Weimar-Vienna: Böhlau.



             A belief in the importance of secularization in literary history has caused the Sorbian hymn to receive less attention than it deserves, even though it has a longer pedigree than any other Sorbian literary form. From an entry in Bishop Thietmar’s Chronicle we know that his predecessor Boso (who died in 970) taught the newly converted Sorbs of his diocese to sing Kyrie eleison ‘Lord, have mercy’,[i] and, although it is debatable whether this constitutes a hymn, the fact remains that these two Greek words are the source of the Sorbian words for hymn, namely kerlus (Upper Sorbian) and kjarliz (Lower Sorbian). There are several other medieval sources referring to religious singing, but actual texts of Sorbian hymns are first found in Albin Moller’s hymnal and catechism of 1574, the oldest Sorbian printed book.[ii] It includes 122 Lower Sorbian metrical hymns, psalms, and canticles, most, if not all, of which are translations from German or Latin. It is unlikely that the Sorbian texts contain anything that has not been translated, but only a thorough comparison with the purported originals is capable of establishing this conclusively. It is generally accepted that most of the translations are Moller’s own work; but according to a 1738 source the versions of ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’ and ‘Es ist das Heil uns kommen’ were written earlier, in 1545, by Simon Gast, pastor in Lubin (Lübben), which makes him the first known Sorbian hymnographer.[iii]

            The literary skill employed in producing Moller’s metrical versions was not inconsiderable and is not diminished by their dependence on German and Latin originals. They are certainly of greater literary interest than the prose versions of the psalms written in a different dialect at about the same time which remained in manuscript.[iv] We do not know how many copies of Moller’s book were printed, but it cannot have been intended to be sold widely among the Sorbian populace, for they were almost all illiterate peasants. It was probably meant to be held by pastors and precentors, who taught the hymns orally to their congregations. By the mid nineteenth century only two copies were known to have survived, and today the number has been reduced to one.[v] The hymns it contains were not intended exclusively for church use; some of them were meant to be sung at home at specific times of the day; on rising, before and after meals, and before retiring to bed.[vi]

            In his introduction (in German), explaining to his patron what moved him to produce his hymnal, Moller throws light on hymn singing in Lower Lusatian parishes in his day. He refers to a disordered situation in which ‘some Wendish hymns have too few syllables, but others have too many in the same meaning,’ and notes that ‘the same hymn may be sung in one church with certain words and in the next with others […]’[vii] He says that simple Christians are bewildered by this state of confusion and stresses the need for a consensus in neighboring churches regarding doctrine, sermons, baptism, singing, and other related matters.[viii]

            The next printed Lower Sorbian hymnal after Moller’s did not appear until 1749. His ideas on uniformity appear to have had little effect on hymn-singing in the intervening one hundred and seventy-five years. To what extent his hymnal was used is not known, but it is clear that manuscript hymnals were in common use and that their texts varied considerably. A few examples of these manuscript hymnals have survived or, at least, were known to have survived until recent times, including: (I) a manuscript catechism and hymnal from Wjeliki Kolsk (Groß Kolzig) dating from the sixteenth or seventeenth century, compiled by Martinus Krüger,[ix] (II) an East Lower Sorbian manuscript from Wotšowaš (Atterwasch), dated 1615,[x] (III) a manuscript from Lutol (Leuthen), written before 1656, probably by Jurij Krügar,[xi] (IV) a manuscript hymnal from Wjerbno (Werben), dating from the end of the seventeenth or beginning of the eighteenth century,[xii] (V) a seventeenth-century manuscript from Wjelcej (Welzow),[xiii] (VI) a manuscript prayer-book and hymnal of 1723 by Christoph Gabriel Fabricius.[xiv]

            The printed hymnal of 1749, entitled Kleine Sammlung geistreicher Lieder, was published in Cottbus and consists of two parts, containing a total of 211 hymns. Of the 158 hymns in the first part, 71 are furnished with the names of their translators. In the second part, which is separately entitled Fortgesetzte Sammlung derer in die wendische Sprache übersetzten Lieder, no translator’s names are given.[xv] The greater part of the attributed items (42 out of 71) are the work of Johann Ludwig Will, pastor of Brjazyna (Briesen). Others are translated by Jan Müller, pastor of Desno (Dissen), and Georg Petermann, deacon in Wětošow (Vetschau). Will is believed to have been the editor of the whole volume.[xvi] A second, broadly similar but greatly expanded hymnal (442 hymns) was published in Cottbus in 1760 with the title Wohl eingerichtetes Gesangbuch. Four of the original hymns had been re-worked, three omitted, and the sequence of the others changed. Will is thought to be the editor of this volume too.[xvii] Evidence that Moller had not been entirely overlooked by his successor is provided by a note to no. 39 ‘Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam’ explaining that a variant to verse seven may be found in Moller’s version.[xviii] A full comparison of Will’s hymns with Moller’s has never been made. Schwela, writing in 1944, when all copies of Moller were thought to be lost, could only say that there was no similarity between the two versions of ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her,’ for this hymn in Moller’s version had been reproduced by K. A. Jenc in the Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje in 1858.[xix]

            The dismembered state of the Lower Sorbs and their literature is demonstrated by the fact that in the parish of Lubnjow (Lübbenau) a separate printed hymnal was in use, the Lubnjowski sarski zambuch, containing translations made by Jan Gottlieb Hauptmann, pastor of Lubnjow. This was published in Lübben in 1769, the year after Hauptmann’s death, and continued in use until 1863, when, following the retirement of Pastor Kito Stempel, Sorbian was dropped in favor of German in the Lubnjow church.[xx] Local independence is particularly emphasized by the fact that, though more than half the hymns in Hauptmann’s Zambuch were based on the same originals as those in Will, not one was reproduced from Will’s version. The possibility that this had a theological explanation – Hauptmann leaning towards Lutheran orthodoxy, Will towards Pietism – was tentatively rejected by Schwela, who says, nevertheless, that no conclusive answer would be found until a proper textological analysis was carried out.[xxi]

            Will’s hymnal appeared again, much enlarged, in 1777. According to K. A. Jenc, every Sorb could now use it to join in the singing in church,[xxii] but details of the supply and use of hymnals are scarce. At any rate, the age of manuscript copying was not long past, as may be seen from the manuscript hymnal dating from the period 1750-70, published by R. Olesch in 1977, and from the reference in the title of the supplement published with the 1777 edition to ‘hymns which hitherto have been sung only from writing.’[xxiii] A self-styled fifth edition appeared in 1860 under the new title Serske duchowne kjarliže. In reality, however, whether we count the 1760 edition as first or second, the number of editions that had appeared by 1860 seems to be in excess of five, possibly as many as eight.[xxiv] Around 1877 it was decided to carry out a thorough revision, particularly in order to improve rhyme and rhythm, and a team of ten revisers was assembled, though only three of them stayed the course. These were Kito Šwjela, Mato Kosyk, and Hendrich Kopf. Their work, counted as the ninth edition, came out in 1882, still with the title Serske duchowne kjarliže. It contained 617 hymns. Printed in an edition of 2,000 copies, it sold well, but caused a good deal of confusion, for, as was soon discovered, it could not be used simultaneously with earlier editions. Only the parishes of Popojce (Papitz) and Wjerbno (Werben) immediately abandoned the old version; they were later joined by Brjazyna (Briesen) and (in 1902) Chośebuz (Cottbus). In 1884 the Maćica Serbska bought the publishing rights and printed a second edition of the revised version (a further 2,000 copies). The parishes that had decided not to change eventually began to run short of copies. The old version was out of print, but they made shift by buying copies no longer required by the parishes that had changed. Eventually, in 1897, the Maćica Serbska published 1,500 copies of the old version, entitled Stare serbske duchowne kjarliže.[xxv] This called itself the twelfth edition. The Serbske duchowne kjarliže (by this time serbske was spelled with a b) was printed once more in 1901 in an edition described as the thirteenth and ‘of the new hymnal’ the third.[xxvi]

            A further sign of the diversity that still separated some Lower Sorbian parishes from others in the nineteenth century is the existence of another hymnal that was first printed in Cottbus in 1800, entitled Nachtrag einiger Lieder, welche schon größtenteils in dem Niederlausitzischen wendischen Gesangbuche befindlich sind. Nach einer abgeänderten Übersetzung, wie solche in einigen Kirchen gesungen werden. It was printed in large type for the convenience of old people, but otherwise the only obvious motivation for publication is in the last part of the title, namely that some parishes preferred different translations from those in the Wohl eingerichtetes Gesangbuch. The Nachtrag, revised by David Bohuwěr Kopf, was republished in 1806 under the new title Serske spěwarske knigly, and contained 297 hymns. A special feature of this edition, as explained on the title-page, was a selection of hymns for funerals, and with time they came to be commonly used at funerals.[xxvii] There were further editions in 1817,1851, and 1858. By 1880 the 1858 edition was out of print and, in view of the fact that the Serske spěwarske knigly in some parishes (e.g. Wjerbno (Werben)) was used in church services other than funerals, a committee was formed to work on a new, revised edition. It is not clear whether this committee was connected with that responsible for the new edition of the Serbske duchowne kjarliže, but no further editions of the Serske spěwarske knigly were ever published.[xxviii]

            Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the Lower Sorbian faithful made do with existing editions of the Serbske duchowne kjarliže, notably that of 1901. It was never reprinted and, as the congregations declined, the likelihood of its ever being so became more and more remote. Regular church services in Lower Sorbian came to an end when Bogumil Swjela (Šchwela), pastor of Dešno (Dissen), was forced into retirement and expelled from Lusatia in 1940. Strangely enough, he was still able to publish an article in 1944, in which he referred to the Serbske duchowne kjarliže as ‘the hymnal which had been in use until 1941.’[xxix] though he could not disclose the circumstances in which it had ceased to be used. When Lower Sorbian was restored to use in churches after 1945, it was only used intermittently. Nevertheless, the parish of Dešno in 1957 published a small book of hymns, compiled by H. Jahn.[xxx]


             The upper Sorbs have no equivalent of Moller’s hymnal, but in other respects the development of the hymn in Upper Lusatia proceeded on similar lines to those in Lower Lusatia, i.e. on the basis of the independent initiative of individual pastors. The first Upper Sorbian hymns of which a record survives were translated from German originals by a certain Gregorius D. in Bautzen at some time between 1590 and 1596. His manuscript contains eight hymns and is dedicated to his friend Gregorius Leisentritt, who from 1589 to 1596 was Deacon of St. Peters Cathedral in Bautzen. They are metrical versions of 1. ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott,‘ 2. ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich,’ 3. ‘Sei Lob und Ehre,’ 4. ‘Christus, der uns selig macht,’ 5. ‘Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund,’ 6. a hymn with the Latin title “Christe q[ui] lux es etc.,’ 7. ‘Also heilig ist der Tag,’ and 8. ‘Christ lag in Todes Banden.’[xxxi] Moller contains Lower Sorbian versions of at least six of these (1,2,4,5,7 , and 8), and it is possible that ‘Christe q[ui] lux es etc.’ is the same hymn as ‘Christe, du bist der helle Tag,’ of which there is a Lower Sorbian version in Moller, but the resemblance between the Upper and Lower Sorbian texts is meager. Gregorius D.’s hymns are distinctly homespun, but, for the most part, they rhyme and scan after a fashion, as may be seen from the following extract from the translation of ‘Christus, der uns selig macht’ (to be sung, according to the manuscript, ‘In Thon Patris Sapientia’):[xxxii]

Christus kiź naß wosbozj        A

nic slehó neſchczinj                A

bÿ wokȯlȯ pol nȯce                B

ſanas hrêſchnÿch jatÿ              (?)

psched slÿch Ludj wed’enÿ     C

falſchné wopskorzénÿ             C

hanenÿ á ßmerſchenÿ              C

jack tó piſsmo prawj.              (?)

Prênej schtund’e teho dná       A

dÿz won tack besprawa           A

pſched pilatußa wed’en,          B

Jack… wopzkorżon (?)[xxxiii]     B (?)

won ho praweho posna,          A

hned hó ßmecic[xxxiv] néda A

K herodaſeÿj hȯ poßla,           A

kotrÿſch ho ßmeſchic da. A

The practice whereby individual clergymen made their own Sorbian translations of German hymns was also followed in Upper Lusatia, as Gregorius Martini reveals in the introduction to his own translation of seven penitential psalms, published in Bautzen in 1627 as Die sieben Bußpsalmen des königlichen Propheten Davids. Windisch und Deutsch. Indeed, this custom provided the motivation for his work, for he says that he hopes that his translations will counteract the variability resulting from the do-it-yourself method.[xxxv] However, diversity prevailed for a long time. It was not until 1710 that an Upper Sorbian hymnal appeared in print (unless Martini’s psalms be regarded as such). Until that year there was, in fact, no alternative to the do-it-yourself method. Each parish was left to its own devices. The congregations were, as in Lower Lusatia, mainly illiterate and learned hymns from precentors, who made their own translations or even composed hymns, sometimes in collaboration with the clergy. Upper Sorbian manuscript hymnals have survived in smaller numbers than their Lower Sorbian counterparts,[xxxvi] but an interesting example is provided by a manuscript of 101 pages entitled ‘Das wendische Gesangbuch und Catechismus,’ written by Martiny Müller in Bluń (Bluno) in 1675, containing hymns (according to one view) in the transitional dialect of the village where it was written[xxxvii] or (according to another view) in a mixture of Upper and Lower Sorbian.[xxxviii]

            In 1689 the Upper Lusatian States (Landesstande) began to make arrangements for the translation of certain devotional work including hymns, into Upper Sorbian. A committee of Lutheran clergymen was set up under the chairmanship of Pawol Prätorius (1650-1709). All Sorbian parishes of Upper Lusatia were instructed by the States to prepare copies of the hymns used in their churches and to send them to the committee in Bautzen. It was envisaged that the manuscripts received would form the basis of a new hymnal, but the committee was disappointed by the versions sent in, many of which were found to run counter to ‘the rules of good poetry,’ the Sorbian language, or religious orthodoxy. They therefore resolved to make new translations from the German, adhering to the German rules of versification. The committee’s condemnatory tone was tempered by a kindly reference to Georg Schertz (1634-74) (whose name m ay be rendered in Sorbian as Jurij Šěrc), pastor in Dubc (Daubitz). He alone, they said, among the authors of the verse translations sent in, had understood and applied the rules of prosody, and this mention has ensured him a small place in Sorbian literary history.[xxxix] It is unfortunate that the hymns which came from him cannot be identified among those that were eventually published.

            The volume appeared in Bautzen in 1710 as Das neue teutsche und wendische Gesang-Buch and contained 202 hymns. There were 42 more in the second edition (1719). A third edition followed in 1726 and a fourth, revised, edition in 1732.[xl] In all of these the German and Sorbian texts were published facing each other. The first Upper Sorbian Lutheran hymnal containing only Sorbian texts was the Duchomny wěrnych křesćijanow, published in Bautzen by Jan Gotthelf Böhmer (Běmar) (1704-47) in 1733. It contained 322 hymns and claimed to be cheaper and easier to carry than its predecessors.[xli] Considerations of portability may account for the unusual format (2 ½” x 6 ¼”), but it still managed to include 17 hymns (translations) which had not been previously published.[xlii] The omission of the German originals facilitated reduction of both price and size, and it was reprinted in 1734 and 1739. A larger, all-Sorbian hymnal followed in 1741. This too was compiled and edited by Böhmer. Entitled Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi, it was destined to become the standard hymnal in Upper Sorbian Lutheran churches. The 1741 edition consisted of 529 hymns, but this figure gradually grew as one edition followed another. By 1907 the Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi, had gone through about thirty editions.

            After Böhmer’s death new editions were prepared by Adam Gottlob Šěrach (1724-1773), and both his and Böhmer’s names continued to appear on the title-pages of new editions long after they were dead. Šěrach came into conflict with other Lutheran pastors, when he omitted two hymns from the 1759 edition on account of their mystical nature. One of these (by Johann Gottfried Kühn (1706-63)) was subsequently reinstated by the church authorities.[xliii]

            The steady flow of new editions in the eighteenth century indicates that the days were now past when the congregation was illiterate and had to be prompted by a precentor who had copied out his hymnal by hand. The change was a result of educational policies which increased the number of schools and those attending them. Even in the seventeenth century the growth of literacy was becoming ever more obvious and this inspired the initiative which led to the formation of Prätorius’ committee. By the mid eighteenth century it must have been common practice for each member of the congregation to hold a printed hymnal in his hands and to read the text as he sang.

            Further changes in church music resulted from the introduction of organs. In the church at Palow (Pohla) between Bautzen und Bischofswerda, for example, the organ was installed in 1753. St. Michael’s Church in Bautzen got its organ in 1784. But the introduction of both printed hymnals and organs proceeded piecemeal. The congregation of Slepo (Schleife) managed without an organ until the middle of the nineteenth century,[xliv] but the last evidence we have of hymns being copied out by hand is supplied by a manuscript titled ‘Evangelisches wendisches Gesangbuch, nach welchem in der Kirchen allhier zu Laudta pfleget gesungen zu werden’, which was copied from an older manuscript in 1752-6 by Jan Bergar, assistant schoolmaster in Łuty (Lauta).[xlv] It contains 249 hymns in the local dialect. Factors determining the retention of the old procedure in Łuty may have included the singularity of its dialect. Living on the northern outskirts of Upper Lusatia, the villagers felt, perhaps, that the language of the printed hymnals was too remote for comfort. I find it difficult to accept K. A. Jenč’s alternative explanation, namely that news of the printed hymnals may in the 1750s not yet have reached this remote village.[xlvi]

            The number of hymns in the Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi gradually increased, and then declined slightly. Rudolf Jenč refers to an edition published in 1930, containing 802 hymns, and to its immediate predecessor, containing 858.[xlvii] To judge from Wjacsławk’s record, the 1930 edition must be the Spěwarske knihi za evangelskolutherskich Serbow and the predecessor in question the Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi of 1907.[xlviii] Of the reduced number (802) in the 1930 edition, according to Jenč, only nine are original Sorbian compositions, the remainder being translations from German. By contrast, ninety-two years earlier, the edition of 1838 is said to have had 40 original compositions.[xlix] Translations may be identified by the fact that they are preceded by the first line of the German original. Those not preceded by a German line are presumably original compositions. On the basis of this criterion, as many as 50 of the hymns in the Nowy přidawk duchomnych kěrlušow, a supplement to the 1833 edition of the Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi,[l] may be identified as originals, of which 25 are by Handrij Lubjenski (1790-1840). A number of the translations are also his. Prominent among the other authors of original compositions in this volume are Emst Bohuwěr Jakub (1800-54) (ten originals) and Jan Kilian (1811-84) (five originals). The Spěwarske knihi za evangelsko-lutherskich Serbow was most recently republished in Bautzen in 1955.

            Sorbian religious life in the eighteenth century was influenced by the settlement of Moravian Brethren at Herrnhut, established in 1772 on land donated by the Sorbophil and Pietist, Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf (1700-60). Herrnhut is only about six miles outside traditional Sorbian territory, to the south-east of Lubij (Löbau). Von Zinzendorf is the author of about 2,000 hymns, fourteen of which, in Sorbian translation, found their way into the Sorbian Lutheran hymnal. The best known of them is ‘Duša, ach duša, ty njeznaješ so,’ which was later revised by K. A. Fiedler (1835-1917) and provided with a new tune by K. A. Kocor (1822-1904).[li]

            By the 1730s Sorbs had begun to visit Herrnhut settlement regularly, especially at Easter. They came on foot, singing hymns. Before long Sorbian groups of the Brethren were being formed. The most important group was in Ćichorica (Teichnitz), where Ernst August Hersen, a German who had learned Sorbian, was appointed teacher.[lii] The anonymous Tón hlós teje njewjesty Jezusoweje, published in Bautzen in 1750, containing 257 hymns, is said to represent a selection of von Zinzendorf s compositions, translated by Hersen. ‘Duša, ach duša, ty njeznaješ so,’ is not among them, but hymns in the Sorbian Lutheran hymnal which did originate in anonymous Tón hlós teje njewjesty Jezusoweje, are ‘Ta krej a prawdosć Krystusa,’ ‘O dźěćo lubowane,’ and ‘Na prěnim dnju po soboće.’ The hymn ‘Dajće so nam k Bohu modlić’ (no. 632 in the Lutheran hymnal) is said to have originated among the Sorbian Brethren and to owe its survival to Michał Hilbjenc (1758-1816).[liii]


             Emphasis on the use of the vernacular and on the congregation’s active participation in the liturgy were distinctive features of the Reformation. Hymns were therefore central to Lutheran worship, but not to the Roman Catholic mass. This explains the prominence of the hymn in Sorbian literature, in contrast to the literatures of Slavonic peoples less affected by the Reformation. Nevertheless, Sorbian Catholics did have hymns in the vernacular both before and after the Reformation, though no pre-Reformation hymns in Sorbian have survived. The first known Catholic hymn in Sorbian was published by Jakub Ticin (1656-93) together with his translation of Peter Canisius’s catechism in Prague in 1685. It is a translation of ‘Ave maris stella,’ beginning with the line ‘Witaj z morja hwězda.’[liv]

            In 1690 Jurij Hawstyn Swětlik (or Swótlik) (1650-1729) published his Swjate scenja, lekcijony a epistle na te njedźele a swjate dny toho cyłoho lěta, to which he appended a supplement, entitled Přidawk někotrych starych katolskich kěrlušow na serbsku rěč tak-to net přestawjenych and consisting of 16 hymns. This is the first Catholic Sorbian hymnal. The translations were evidently Swětlik’s own work. Six years later (1696) he published a more substantial volume with the title Serbske katolske kěrluše, kiž so na te SS. róčne časy abo tež hewak wšědnje a přez cyłe lěto spěwaju. This consists of 86 hymns, most of which have undoubtedly been translated from German, but some of which may be original compositions.[lv] A revised edition appeared in 1720. Both Ticin and Swětlik came from Wittichenau and wrote in a literary variety close to the dialect of that region. Catholic hymns were also published in the Winca Jězusowa, a prayerbook first produced by Peter Kowar (or Schmidt) (1688-1737) in 1737.[lvi] An important collection of 85 Catholic Sorbian hymns written in 1741 by a certain Petrus Kokula (of whom nothing further is known) remained in manuscript.[lvii] Further editions of the Winca Jězusowa, including hymns, appeared in 1747 and 1768.

            Towards the end of the century Michał Jan Wałda (1721-94) published prayers and hymns separately in two large volumes, namely Jězusowa winca (Bautzen, 1785) (prayers) and Spěwawa Jězusowa winca (Bautzen, 1787) (hymns). The latter contains 659 hymns, many of which are Wałda’s own translations from Latin or German and five of which are his own compositions.[lviii] A strikingly ecumenical feature is provided by the inclusion of 80 hymns from the Lutheran Duchomne kěrlišowe knihi, some of which are translations of hymns written by Luther himself. Wałda also collected hymn tunes, many of which were traditional among the Sorbs and of great antiquity. His book of 238 tunes to accompany the Spěwawa Jězusowa winca was completed in 1788. Though never printed, it was made available to all the Catholic parishes in manuscript copies.[lix]

            Wałda’s Spěwawa Jězusowa winca was never reprinted, but it was influential. It is said to have been the basis and source of the following:[lx]

            1. The Winca Jězusowa of 1807, containing 87 hymns, of which nine were not in the Spěwawa Jězusowa winca. Its descent from the latter is not beyond doubt. Wjacsławk records it as a scion of the 1768 Winca, a view supported by the uninverted title. Used in the parish of Ralbicy (Ralbitz), it came to be known as the Ralbičanske spěwarske.

            2. The Jězusowa winca (Bautzen, 1836), containing 133 hymns, five of which are not in the Spěwawa Jězusowa winca. It was used in the parish of Wotrow (Ostro) and thus came to be known as the Wotrowske spěwarske.

            3. The Jězusowa winca (Bautzen, 1853), containing 143 hymns, of which 13 are not in the Spěwawa Jězusowa winca. It was used in the parish of Chrósćicy (Crostwitz) and was known as the Chrósćanske spěwarske.

            In the second half of the nineteenth century Michał Hórnik (1833-94) set about reforming Catholic Sorbian hymns. The first task was to restore the unity which had been lost by the adoption of separate hymnals in separate parishes. Hórnik’s Mjeńše spěwarske knihi za katolskich Serbow (Bautzen, 1878) appeared as a supplement to Jurij Luscanski’s Nowa Jězusowa winica (Bautzen, 1877). Luscanski’s book consisted of prayers, whereas Hórnik’s contained hymns. The further task of combining prayers and hymns in one volume was performed in Hórnik’s Pobožny spěwar. Mjeńše spěwarske knihi z modlitwami (Bautzen, 1879). A considerably enlarged combined hymnal and prayerbook was published by Hórnik in Bautzen in 1888 with the title Pobožny wosadnik. Modlitwy a kěrluše za katolskich Serbow. New editions appeared in 1900, 1919, 1929, 1951, 1960,  1977, and 1979. Since 1951 the title has been simplified to Wosadnik. Modlitwy a kěrluše za katolskich Serbow.


             The hymn not only has a longer history than any other Sorbian literary form, it has also, mainly thanks to the effects of the Reformation, been uniquely pervasive in Sorbian society. Even when they were illiterate the Sorbs were in contact with written literature in the form of the Bible and hymns. Even after they had learned to read, the hymn provided most Sorbs with their only access to poetry, apart from folk-songs. And hymn-singing was not restricted to church services. As we know from Jan Gotthelf Böhmer’s introduction to his Duchomny wopor, hymns were also sung at work:

Ja dopomnju so pak tudy, zo wjele křesćijanow, kotři někotre kěrliši z

hłowy móža, tež druhdy při swojim dźěle te same spěwaju […][lxi]

[I shall recall here that many Christians who know several hymns by heart

may also sometimes sing the same at their work…]

            Pondering the propriety of this practice, he concludes that it is sinful only if the singer keeps his thoughts more on his work than on his singing. Provided that his heart is raised to God and his thoughts are on what he is singing, the practice (says Böhmer) is praiseworthy and pleasing to God.[lxii]

            Hymns influenced the Sorbian people and inspired their verbal art. This is particularly clear in the case of those unschooled writers known as ludowi basnicy ‘folk-poets’, such as Pětr Młóńk (1805-87) and Jan Bohuwěr Dalwica-Dólba (1785-1849). Their poems are virtually hymns.[lxiii] The more sophisticated writers may, to some extent, have concealed the influence of hymns on their work, but it is there.[lxiv] It would be surprising if echoes from hymns were not to be found in even the most secular literature. From the point of view of the singers, particularly those who sang hymns at their work, the distinction between secular and sacred must have been tenuous, for they were also familiar with the pokěrlušk (Upper Sorbian) or bamžycka (Lower Sorbian), a type of folk-song with religious themes. The Wandrowski kěrluš (attributed to Handrij Lubjenski), a hymn which evokes the Biblical theme of man as a stranger on the earth, was sufficiently close to the folk-song for Jan Ernst Smoler to include it in his famous folk-song collection of 1841.[lxv] This, according to Rudolf Jenč, was the hymn sung by the Upper Sorbian emigrants, led by Jan Kilian, when they left their homeland for America in 1854.[lxvi]

            Many questions concerning the textology of the Sorbian hymn remain unanswered. The distinction is blurred not only between the sacred and the profane, but also between the translated and the original, for what started out as a faithful translation of a German or Latin hymn sometimes underwent repeated revision until it bore little resemblance to the original. At the same time, hymns which are not translations often embody echoes from hymns which are. There are many questions of authorship, originality, influence, social function, and relationship with folk-songs which require answers, if we are to move towards a fuller understanding of the role of poetry and song in the history of the Sorbs down the ages.

[i] Gerald Stone, ‘The First Sorbian Sentence,’ in: Festschrift für Wolfgang Gesemann, III (Neuried, 1986), 337-43; Heinz Schuster Sewc, ‘Die Bedeutung der mittelalterlichen altsorbischen (westslavischen?) Glossen für die sorbische Sprachgeschichte’, Die Welt der Slaven, XXXIV (N.F. XIII) (1989), 158-66.

[ii] Albin Moller, Niedersorbisches Gesangbuch und Katechismus. Budissin 1574 (Berlin, 1959) (facsimile edition).

[iii] Heinz Schuster-Šewc, Vergleichende historische Lautlehre der Sprache des Albin Moller (Berlin, 1958), 3; Rudolf Jene, Stawizny serbskeho pismowstwa (Bautzen, 1954), 39 n.

[iv] Reinhold Trautmann, Der Wolfenbütteler niedersorbische Psalter (Leipzig, 1928).

[v] Schuster-Šewc, Lautlehre (n.3), 2,5-6.

[vi] Moller, Gesangbuch (n. 2), 249-55: ‘Des Morgens so man auffstehet;’ 255-9: ‘Des Abendts so man zur ruhe gehet;’ 259-61: ‘Vor dem Essen;’ 261-3: ‘Nach dem Essen.’

[vii] Ibid. 10-11.

[viii] Ibid. 11-12.

[ix] E. Muka, ‘Stary delnjoserbski rukopis. (Katechismus a spěwarske) z Welikego Kolska pola Barsca,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1915), 53-6; Heinz Schuster-Šewc, Sorbische Sprachdenkmäler. 16.-18. Jahrhundert (Bautzen, 1967), 293-5.

[x] Erns t Muka, ‘Wotšowašski rukopis,’Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1915), 3-22; Schuster-Šewc, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 481-7.

[xi] K. A. Jenč, ‘Rukopisne serbske spěwarske,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1874), 44-58; Schuster-Šewc, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 359-60.

[xii] E. Muka, ‘Wjerbańske rukopisne spěwarske,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1915), 56-61.

[xiii] Schuster-Šewc, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 360-2.

[xiv] Ibid. 378-85.

[xv] G. Schwela, ‘Ein bisher unbekanntes niedersorbisches Gesangbuch’, Zeitschrift für slavische Philologie, IX (1944), 124-7.

[xvi] Ibid.; K.A. Jenč, ‘Pismowstwo a spisowarjo delnjołužiskich Serbow wot (1548) 1574-1880,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1880), 98-99; Reinhold Olesch, ‘Die Kölner niedersorbische Liederhandschrift,’ Slavistische Studien zum VIII. internationalen Slavistenkongress in Zagreb 1978 (Cologne-Vienna, 1978), 367-9.

[xvii] K. A. Jenč, ‘Pismowstwo’ (n. 16), 98-9.

[xviii] Schwela, ‘Gesangbuch’ (n. 15), 126.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 176-8.

[xxi] Schwela, ‘Gesangbuch’ (n. 15), 127.

[xxii] K. A.  Jenč, ‘Pismowstwo’ (n. 16), 99

[xxiii] Reinhold Olesch (ed.), Die Kölner niedersorbische Lieder Handschrift. Ein Kirchengesangbuch des 18. Jahrhunderts (Cologne-Vienna, 1977); Wohleingerichtetes wendisches Gesangbuch, in welchen 442 der geistreichsten Gesänge, nebst einem neuen Anhange, von 124 der neusten ausgesuchten und erbaulichsten Lieder zu finden, welche bishero nur geschrieben sind gesungen worden… (Cottbus, 1777). I have not seen a copy of the latter; details are quoted from Jakub Wjacsławk, Serbska bibliografija (Berlin, 1952), p.339 (no. 5593).

[xxiv] Wjacsławk, loc. cit. (n. 23).

[xxv] R Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 177; H. Jordan, ‘Pismowstwo delnjołužiskich Serbow. Wot lěta 1881-1900,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1902), 14-15.

[xxvi] Wjacsławk, op. cit. (n. 23), p. 340 (no. 5600).

[xxvii] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 177-8.

[xxviii] K. A. Jenč, ‘Pismowstwo’ (n. 16), 101-2; Wjacsławk, op. cit. (n. 23), p. 340 (no. 5597).

[xxix] Schwela, ‘Gesangbuch’ (n. 15), 124.

[xxx] Jurij Młynk, Serbska bibliografija 1958-1965 (Bautzen, 1968), p. 505 (no. 8621a).

[xxxi] H. Jordan, ‘Khěrlušowe knižki Gregorija D. … z lěta 1590’, Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1884), 166-72; Schuster-Sewč, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 34-9.

[xxxii] Schuster-Sewč, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 37.

[xxxiii] Read thus by Schuster-Sewč, ibid. The text contains several signs of Lower Sorbian influence, including past passive participles in -on(y).

[xxxiv] In MS ßmecic, according to Schuster-Sewč, ibid.

[xxxv] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 48-9.

[xxxvi] Re two such MSS whose whereabouts are now unknown, see Schuster-Sewč, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 79-89.

[xxxvii] K. A. Jenč, ‘Rukopisne serbske spěwarske,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1874), 50.

[xxxviii] Schuster-Sewč, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 495.

[xxxix] K. A. Jenč, ‘Spisowarjo serbskich rukopisow bjez hornjołužiskimi evangelskimi Serbami hač do lěta 1800,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1875), 86-7.

[xl] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 156.

[xli] Jan Gotthelf Böhmer, Duchomny wopor wěrnych křesćijanow aby kěrlišowe knihi (Bautzen, 1734), introduction, unnumbered pages [17].

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Nowy biografiski slownik k stawiznam a kulturje Serbow (Bautzen, 1984), 537-9.

[xliv] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 153 n.; K. A. Jenč, ‘Rukopisne spěwarske’ (n. 37), 46.

[xlv] Schuster-Šewc, Sprachdenkmäler (n. 9), 505-6; K. A. Jene, ‘Hišće jene rukopisne serbske spěwarske,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1877), 114-17.

[xlvi] K. A. Jenč, ‘Hisce jene spěwarske’ (n. 45), 115-16.

[xlvii] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 157.

[xlviii] Wjacsławk, op. cit. (n. 23), p. 335 (nos. 5535-6).

[xlix] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 157.

[l] I refer to a copy of the Nowy přidawk duchomnych kěrlušow in my possession which cannot be identified in Wjacsławk. It lacks a title-page, but can be dated to the period 1840-9 on the basis of biographical notes on p. 124 which record the death of H. Lubjenski (19 March 1840) but not that of Jan Traugott Dalwica (Dallwitz), who died on 19 September 1849.

[li] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 179.

[lii] Ibid. 181; O. Wićaz, Wo serbskim ludowym basnistwje (Bautzen, 1922), 8-9.

[liii] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 157.

[liv] Ibid. 198.

[lv] Ibid. 201.

[lvi] Ibid. 204, 206.

[lvii] H. Dučman, ‘Koklowy rukopis kěrlušow,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1870), 97-112.

[lviii] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 205.

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] Jan Symank, ‘Serbski cyrkwinski spew,’ Časopis Maćicy Serbskeje (1913), 3-17.

[lxi] Böhmer, op. cit. (n. 41), 14.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 183-4 (re Dalwica-Dólba), 391-5 (re Młóńk); Wićaz, op. cit. (n. 52), passim (re Młóńk).

[lxiv] It is not merely a question of echoes, but also of direct references and quotations. Jan Radyserb-Wjela, for example, concludes his story Napad pola Bukec 1758 by quoting the first stanza of the hymn ‘Złoty měr wšo dobre płodźi’ (J. Radyserb-Wjela, Wuběrk prozy (Berlin, 1956), 50) and in his Bitwa pola Budyšina there is a scene in which Jurij comes upon Lubinka comforting a sick widow by reading hymns to her, specifically ‘Mi žiwjenje sy Chryšće, smjerć je mi dobyće.’

[lxv] Leopold Haupt and Johann Ernst Schmaler, Volkslieder der Wenden in der Ober- und Nieder-Lausitz (Grimma, 1841), pp. 312-14 (no. CCCXXXI).

[lxvi] It was first published in 1829. R. Jenč, Stawizny (n. 3), 203-4.


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