Sub tuum praesidium
Beneath Thy Protection (Greek: Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν; Latin: Sub tuum præsidium) is the oldest preserved extant hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos. The hymn is well known in many Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox countries, and is often a favourite song used along with Salve Regina.
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The earliest text of this hymn was found in a Coptic Orthodox Christmas liturgy. The papyrus records the hymn in Greek, dated by scholar C.H. Roberts to the fourth Century, while his colleague Edgar Lobel favored a date ranging from AD 250-280. This divergence in dates is explained by Roberts' doubt that the term "Theotokos" was already in use by the third Century. We find it, however, in the writings of third Century theologians Origen and Pope Dionysius of Alexandria.
The hymn is used in the Coptic liturgy to this day, as well as in the Armenian, Byzantine, Ambrosian, and Roman Rite liturgies. It was part of Sulpician custom that all classes ended with a recitation of this prayer. Besides the Greek text, ancient versions can be found in Coptic, Syriac, Armenian and Latin.
Henri de Villiers finds in the term "blessed" a reference to the salutation by Elizabeth in Luke 1:42. "Praesidium" is translated as "an assistance given in time of war by fresh troops in a strong manner."
The former medieval and post-medieval practice in several dioceses, especially in France, was to use the Sub tuum as the final antiphon at Compline instead of the Salve Regina and in the Rite of Braga where it is sung at the end of Mass.
In the Byzantine Rite used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the hymn occurs as the last dismissal hymn of daily Vespers in Great Lent. In Greek practice it is usually sung in Neo-Byzantine chant.
In the Armenian Rite, the hymn is sung on the Eve of Theophany and is also used as an acclamation (մաղթանք) in the daily compline service known as the Rest Hour (Հանգստեան Ժամ). A slightly different version of the hymn is appended to the Trisagion when the latter is chanted in the daily Morning (Առաւօտեան) and Evening (Երեկոյեան) Hours of the Daily Office.
The Slavonic version of the hymn is also often used outside of Great Lent, with the triple invocation «Пресвѧтаѧ Богородице спаси насъ» ("Most Holy Theotokos, save us") appended. Other than the traditional and modern chant settings, which are the most commonly used, the most well-known musical setting is perhaps that of Dmytro Bortniansky.
In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church it is used as the antiphon for the Nunc Dimittis at Compline in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in the Liturgy of the Hours may be used as the Marian antiphon after Compline outside of Eastertide.
The Latin version has also been set to music in the West many times, notably by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In 2010 the text was set as a triple-choir motet in Latin, Slavonic and Greek by the English composer Ivan Moody.
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The earliest Church Slavonic manuscripts have the prayer in the following form:
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This version continues to be used by the Old Believers today. In the 17th century, under the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a new translation (but parishes continue to use the form given above):
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This second version continues in use today.
The Latin translation, likely derived from the Greek, dates from the 11th century:
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- Matthewes-Green, Frederica (2007). The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts. Brewster MA: Paraclete Press. pp. 85–87. ISBN 978-1-55725-536-5.
- See the Leuven Database of Ancient Books, P. Ryl. 470. About the date of the papyrus Rylands III 470, see also Hans Förster, «Die älteste marianische Antiphon - eine Fehldatierung? Überlegungen zum “ältesten Beleg” des Sub tuum praesidium», in Journal of Coptic Studies 7 (2005), pp. 99-109.
- Kirby, Peter. "Dionysius of Alexandria."
- Green, Michael. "The History of the Sub Tuum"
- de Villiers, Henri. "The Sub Tuum Praesidium", New Liturgical Movement
- Roten SM, Johann G. "Help of Christians", Marian Library, University of Dayton
- "Sub tuum Praesidium", KofC
- "Under thy compassion we take refuge..." Photograph of papyrus, dated to 250 AD, the earliest example of this hymn.
- "Sub Tuum Praesidium (Feasts of BVM, Antiphon)", the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos