Dies Irae: the original (12th Century)

Liber scriptus… [12th Century Miniature – Gregorius]

Ever since the discovery of a manuscript version of the Dies Irae, dating back to the late 12th Century (mss. VII D 36, f. 16r. – National Library-Napels, edited/published by Dom Inguenza in 1931), one is invited to rediscover this extraordinary poem. Unfortunately, this is not easy to accomplish, exactly because we think we already know it. It is so familiar, as part of the Requiem Mass, set to music by so many. This makes it hard to really read (taste) the text anew. One needs a kind of second naivety. The effort/exercise however is worthwhile, because the original differs from the usual text in a crucial way.

  • The 11th stanza is lacking (Iuste Iudex)
  • The 6th stanza is quite different from the one that became standard.
  • The extremely popular final stanzas Lacrimosa and Pie Iesu, are also absent.[1]

Taking this into account, the original presents itself as a consistent contemplative poem of 16 stanzas, meditating on the Last Judgment. Stanzas 1-6 describe Judgment day (descriptive verbs, futurum). From stanza 7 onwards the individual takes the floor (verbs in first person singular, prayer-modus). He sees himself in front of the Righteous Judge. He pleads guilty but at the same time invokes God’s mercy, referring to God-the-Son, Jesus. The original version of stanza 6 nicely prepares this shift (from the description of the dies illa towards a personal reflection and prayer) by marking ànd bridging the time-gap: tunc-nunc: Then will become apparent what now still might be hidden: Time to change to ‘prayer-modus’.  Aside: For the protestants: In stanza 8 the fact that redemption will take place by grace alone (sola gratia) is clearly expressed.

The original Dies Irae (late 12th Century, Northern part of Italy)

[on my website I published both texts in columns with Dutch translations]

The text copied below is the one published/edited by Inguanez (1931) and Vellekoop (1978). If substantially different from the usual text, the usual text is copied next to it. Minor differences not affecting meaning are not copied. Orthography modernised for readability.

1 Dies iræ, dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla

2 Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando Judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

3 Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum

4 Mors stupebit et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Judicanti responsura

 Original13th C. Requiem (common text)
5 Liber scriptus proferetur
In quo totum continetur
quod inultum non sinetur
Liber scriptus proferetur
In quo totum continetur
Unde mundus judicetur
6 Tunc pandetur et plectetur
quod malorum nunc videtur
vel in corde detinetur
Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit

7 Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus
Cum vix justus sit securus?

8 Rex tremendæ majestatis
Qui salvandos salvas gratis
Salva me, fons pietatis

9 Recordare, Jesu pie
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die

10 Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus

 11 Juste Judex ultionis
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis

12 Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus

13 Qui Mariam absolvisti
Et latronem exaudisti
Mihi quoque spem dedisti

14 Preces meæ non sunt dignæ;
Sed tu bonus fac benigne
Ne perenni cremer igne

15 Inter oves locum præsta
Et ab hædis me sequestra
Statuens in parte dextra

16 Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Voca me cum benedictis

17 Oro supplex et acclivis [2]
Cor contritum quasi cinis
Curas gere mei finis.
Oro supplex et acclinis
Cor contritum quasi cinis
Gere curam mei finis.
 Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine
Dona eis requiem. Amen

[1] Other differences are of an orthographical nature. NB: The two final prayers (18-19: Lacrimosa, and Pie Jesu) are in se older (derived from the prayer ‘super sepulcrum’), but were added later to the Sequence. They deviate in metre and rhyme.

[2] Many other manuscript copies also have ‘acclivis’. The reading of supplex et acclinis seems a lectio facilior.


  • C. VellekoopDies ire dies illa: Studien zur Frühgeschichte einer  Sequenz. (Utrechtse bijdragen tot de muziekwetenschap 10, Bilthoven 1978).
    • In this study (dissertation) Vellekoop, a musicologist, validates the manuscript version of the Dies Irae, discovered and published by Dom Mauro Inguenza: ms. VII D 36, folio 16r. (National Library, Naples: « Il Dies irae in un codice del secolo XII », Rivista Liturgica 18, 1931, p. 277-282 ; also published in Miscellanea Cassinese 9, 1931, p. 5-11.  
  • Géraldine ChâtelainLe Dies irae, hymne universelle, œuvre d’une âme unique. Very interesting study by a Latinist, starting from the almost spontaneous discovery of a linguistic-idiomatic link with the christianised Vergilius (Aeneas, Sibylla).  https://books.openedition.org/pup/47888