The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

December 16 - O Sapientia

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 1

"O Sapienta"

This day is so marked in the church of England calendar and the almanacs. Many have been puzzled by this distinction, and some have imagined that "O SAPIENTA" was a saint and martyr, one of the celebrated eleven thousand virgins of St. Ursula. Mr. Audley, however, has rightly observed that, "This day is so called from the beginning of an anthem in the service of the Latin church, which used to be sung for the honour of Christ's advent, from this day till Christmas eve."—The anthem commenced with these words, "O SAPIENTA quæ ex ore altissimi prodidisti," &c.

Editor's Note:

This day, December 16, marks the traditional beginning of a Novena that runs through December 23; after the Reformation, December 17 became the starting date. "O Sapientia" - that is, "O Wisdom" - is the first of seven traditional antiphons or anthems, each beginning with the letter "O." Rev. John Mason Neale would fashion five of the seven into the familiar Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." For more information, see: Notes on Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. Additional details can be seen in this article by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B., from The Liturgical Year, Vol. 1, Advent: here: O Sapientia.

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