The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

PiŠ Cantiones
A Medieval Song Treasury

Theodoric Petri, ed., PiŠ Cantiones EcclesiasticŠ Et ScholasticŠ Vetervm Episcoporum.
"Devout ecclesiastical and scholastic songs of the old bishops"
(GyphisuualdiŠ: Augustinum Ferberum, 1582)

00_Piae-Title Page.jpg (246141 bytes)In 1582, Theodoricus Petri, a Finnish student at the university in Rostock, compiled a song book containing 74 Latin church and school songs, intending to preserve some ancient hymns and songs of his fatherland. The rector of the Turku Cathedral School, Jaakko Finne (or Suomalainen) edited and then published the first edition in Greifswald, Sweden.

Music was an important part of education in Scandinavia, as well as elsewhere on the Continent. Students were required to practice daily, and often participated in religious services at their schools. PiŠ Cantiones would be one source for the songs that the students would employ in these studies and practices.

The PiŠ Cantiones collection of medieval songs from several Finland, Sweden, and other European countries became one of Finlandĺs greatest musical treasures, and demonstrated Finland's link to other medieval European cultural centers. About half of the songs are believed to be of Finnish origin, as they have not been found in other sources; other songs came from France, England, Germany and Bohemia.

According to the Oxford Book of Carols, "The songs spread in the reformed Church of Sweden and Finland, and were still sung in Swedish schools in 1700, and in Finland late in the nineteenth century."

It is considered remarkable by some that PiŠ Cantiones was compiled by a Finnish student with Catholic leanings, and was edited and published by a Swedish Lutheran. This type of interdenominational cooperation was rare in those days of violent sectarian strife. However, in an attempt by Finne to bring the text into orthodoxy with then-Lutheran thought, some of the texts were severely "edited." At a minimum, the result was odd; in some cases, the result was incomprehensible. Klemming, Dreves and Woodward would all restore the carols and hymns to their original lyric.

Although popular in Sweden and Finland, this volume was unknown in England. Fortunately, in a remarkable stroke of foresight (or perhaps just good luck), in 1853, G. J. R. Gordon, Her Majestyĺs Envoy and Minister at Stockholm, gave a rare and possibly unique copy of the 1582 edition of PiŠ Cantiones to the Rev. John Mason Neale, Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex. Neale translated some of the carols and hymns, and in 1853, he published 12 carols in Carols for Christmas-tide, with music from PiŠ Cantiones arranged by the Rev. Thomas Helmore, vice-Principal of St. Markĺs College, Chelsea. In 1854, they published 12 more in Carols for Easter-tide. Before his death in 1890, Rev. Helmore would loan their copy of PiŠ Cantiones to a younger minister, Rev. George Ratcliffe Woodward; Rev. Woodward would later restore the Latin Christmas hymns and carols to their true form, prior to their editing by Jaakko Finne.  That copy of PiŠ Cantiones is now said to be in the British Museum.

Multiple editions of PiŠ Cantiones would later be printed. The Finnish edition of the songs dating from 1616 under the title Wanhain Suomenmaan Pijspain is considered among the earliest Finnish poetry. The Finns Henricus Fattbuur and Mathias Tolia published the second Latin edition, with 90 songs, in Rostock, Germany, in 1625, under the original name; it is believed that Petri contributed to this revision. The first English edition, with scholarly commentary by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), was published in 1910: PiŠ Cantiones: A Collection of Church & School Song, Chiefly Ancient Swedish, Originally published is A.D. 1582 by Theodoric Petri of Nyland (London: Plainsong & Medieval Music Society, 1910); see: The Christmas Songs in Woodward's PiŠ Cantiones. Concerning this volume, it was noted:

Collection of sacred and student songs in Latin for 1-4 voices. This edition uses mensural notation, but the editor has transposed all songs into treble or bass clef. In addition, the text is given in a modern font and has been arranged under the staff so that it is easier to follow.

Woodward also translated and "re-texted" some of the carols and hymns in an attempt to restore them to their original form. In large measure, much of this "re-texting" was due to the brutal editing of Jaakko Finne, who was attempting to expunge any "Catholic" references, awkwardly replacing any reference to the Virgin Mary with the name of "Jesus," at times producing some very odd lyrics and meter. In this re-editing, Woodward was following both Klemming and Dreves.

Woodward also edited numerous other books of carols, including Carols for Christmastide (1892), Carols for Easter and Ascensiontide (1894), The Hymns and Carols for Christmas-tide (1897), An Italian Carol Book (1920), The Cowley Carol Book (1901, 1902, 1919), and The Babe of Bethlehem (1923), The Adoration of the Kings (1924) and The Cambridge Carol Book (1924). Likewise, Rev. Richard R. Terry included a dozen or so carols from PiŠ Cantiones in Part X of his Two Hundred Folk Carols (1933).

A facsimile edition of PiŠ Cantiones has been printed as PiŠ Cantiones: Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae Veterum Episcoporum. Helsinki: Edition Fazer, 1967. There are numerous contemporary recordings of songs and music from PiŠ Cantiones, for example this GoogleÖ search for PiŠ Cantiones. Likewise, there are numerous videos at YouTube of PiŠ Cantiones.  Scans of individual pages from PiŠ Cantiones (in the Adobe PDF format) can be downloaded from Facsimiles Piae Cantiones (; accessed June 15, 2009).

Other medieval collections of hymns at that time include The Cloister Book (Denmark, c. 1450) and Thomiss°n's Hymn Book (Denmark, 1569). Thomiss°n's Hymn Book and the Piae Cantiones were published after the Reformation, but both of them contain many examples of music deeply rooted in the Middle Ages. In some cases the songs have been transmitted virtually unaltered down through the centuries (for example the Latin Christmas sequence "Psallat fidelis", which appears both in the Cloister Book and the PiŠ Cantiones). In other cases new texts have been written for the old popular melodies that people knew and loved, and several songs are found in both Swedish and Danish versions (for example the famous carol "In dulci jubilo").

In fulfillment of the requirements for obtaining her Doctor of Musical Arts degree, Eileen Hadidian wrote an excellent dissertation about PiŠ Cantiones in June, 1978. She has generously permitted a copy to be placed on this website, A Study and Critical Commentary of PiŠ Cantiones, A Sixteenth-Century Song Collection.

The Christmas hymns in PiŠ Cantiones (1582) include:

Cantiones de Nativitate Domini et Salutoris Nostri Jesu Christi

Note that most of these Latin lyrics have multiple English translations.

Source: PiŠ Cantiones: Ecclesiasticae Et Scholasticae Veterum Episcoporum, 1582, Facsimile 1967, Edition Fazer, Helsinki-Helsingfors, FM 4000, with excellent notes by Timo Mńkinen (both in Finnish and in English). Most of these texts were reproduced in Volume 1 and Volume XLVb of the monumental collaboration by Guido Maria Dreves and Clemens Blume, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi (1908); copies are available at both the Internet Archive and Google Books. Please note that Volume XLVb (45b) begins on page 218 of the scanned PDF volume. A partial scan of the original, together with a complete table of contents, is available at the IMSLP: Piae_Cantiones.

Additional Latin hymns on this website can be seen on the Latin Hymns of the Christian Church and Latin Hymns in the Seasons of the Church Year web pages.

The Christmas hymns, sorted alphabetically:

Some of Latin hymns found in Piae Cantiones can be found in these collections:


In addition to the sources named in the above text, see:

See also: Markus Tapio, Latin song in ancient Finland. These are notes concerning PiŠ Cantiones by the director of the musical ensemble, Retrover. I have not had the opportunity to listen to it myself, however, the CD has received excellent reviews. The CD contains compositions from PiŠ Cantioneas, well as other sources that "connect Finland to the common European musical heritage."

According to its web site, "Retrover is an ensemble specialized in the music of the Renaissance. Its primary goal is to perfect a performance style combining living musical expression and high artistic ambitions with thorough musical research....Retrover has performed and recorded in France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and in Scandinavia. The group has received acclaim by its variety of imaginative concert programs and CD recordings."

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