“O Salutaris” Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of our parish magazine.

We learned this during choir practices in summer 2012 and I immediately loved the sound of the words and interplay of the parts. Written for two equal female voices, sometimes they sing the same music in canon (like a round – think “London’s Burning”); sometimes they use completely different music at the same time, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes in glorious discord.

The text of the song is:

  • O salutaris Hostia,
  • Quae cæli pandis ostium:
  • Bella premunt hostilia,
  • Da robur, fer auxilium.
  • Uni trinoque Domino
  • Sit sempiterna gloria,
  • Qui vitam sine termino
  • Nobis donet in patria.

Which roughly translates as:

  • O saviour offered for mankind
  • Through whom the gate of Heaven we find
  • Guard us against the ancient foe
  • Thy mighty aid on us bestow.
  • Now to the Godhead One in Three
  • Glory for all eternity
  • With thee to know a life for aye
  • In this our true home e’er to stay.

As I have written previously, the context in which a piece is performed is key to how it sounds and how it impacts on both singers and listeners – musically, spiritually and emotionally.  So it is for me with “O Salutaris”, which will be forever integral to happy memories of a hot day in London towards the end of August 2012.

Thomas had spent the summer in Botswana, and David, Jennifer and I passed the summer in a variety of places, often staying with friends and family. On this particular day, Jennifer and I had gone to London for a day of sight seeing before meeting Thomas at Heathrow very early the following morning. Typically, we had planned far too much to fit into one day, and felt our plans truly scuppered when our open top double decker tour bus ground to a halt in a traffic jam. We had no chance of getting to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels before it closed. What disappointment! And then we saw the reason for the delay: the Paralympic torch was on the final part of its journey to the opening ceremony later that evening. We were so close to it, and with a birds eye view too! Along with everyone else on the bus we clapped and cheered it on its way, and took lots of photos before continuing our journey. With only minutes to spare we made it to the Crown Jewels, had a brisk look around the rest of the Tower and took a river cruiser back along the Thames. The drizzle stopped, the skies cleared, and we enjoyed fantastic views across London from the Eye. Pleasantly tired after all the excitement and sight-seeing, we took the underground back to Heathrow to catch the hotel shuttle bus…which we had just missed…and the next wasn’t due for another 20 minutes. So in the twilight of a warm summer evening Jennifer and I filled our time in the deserted bus terminus by singing together – mainly this song. Very early the following morning we met David and Gillian McConville in Heathrow airport, all of us keen to have our sons back after their long African adventure.

The summer of 2012 was unforgettable for so many reasons, and for me, “O Salutaris” is inextricably linked with it.

Here is a YouTube recording to listen to.

Carol P


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