'O Magnum Mysterium' is a festive Gregorian chant about the nativity, and composers throughout history have set it to music


Two famous musical settings of the festive 'O Magnum Mysterium' are Tomás Luis de Victoria's 16th century version and Poulenc's 20th century version

Did 16th-century Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria study under the great Palestrina? While we can’t be sure, the fluid counterpoint of his 1572 motet O Magnum Mysterium, which sets a Matins chant telling of the wonder of the sight of the newborn Christ, is worthy of the Italian master himself. As one of the more generally joyful composers of the Renaissance, it’s no surprise to hear Victoria’s Christmas motet finish with a rousingly florid and affirmative ‘Alleluia!’.

Of Poulenc’s four Christmas motets, the first is the most solemn, the most haunting and has consistently proved the most popular since they were published in 1952. Poulenc’s lapsed faith was famously re-ignited following the death of his friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud in 1936 – with its evocative twists and turns of dark harmony, few works can match the troubling O Magnum Mysterium in displaying the sheer depth of a composer’s belief.

'O Magnum Mysterium' lyrics

O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the newborn Lord,

lying in a manger!

Blessed is the virgin whose womb

was worthy to bear

the Lord, Jesus Christ.


'O magnum mysterium' original Latin lyrics

O magnum mysterium,

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

iacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare

Dominum Iesum Christum.


December 7: No Small Wonder

December 8: The Little Road to Bethlehem

December 9: Hodie Christus natus est

December 10: There is a Flower

❄ December 11: O Magnum Mysterium


December 12: Hark the Herald Angels Sing