Jacopone da Todi

(1230-1306 / Italy)

Biography of Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi (Todi, 1236 circa – Collazzone 1306) was a Franciscan friar from Umbria, Italy in the 13th century. He wrote several laudi (songs in praise of the Lord) in Italian. Moreover, the famous Latin lyric Stabat Mater is conventionally attributed to him. He was an early pioneer in Italian theatre, being one of the earliest scholars who dramatised gospel subjects.

Jacopone's satirical and denunciatory Laudi witness to the troubled times of the warring city-states of northern Italy and the material and spiritual crisis that accompanied them. The laudi are written in his native Umbrian dialect and represent the popular poetry of the region. Many hundreds of manuscripts attest to the broad popularity of his poems in many contexts - although anonymous poems are often attributed to him by the tradition. Other laudi extol the spiritual value of poverty.

Some of his laudi were especially in use among the so-called Laudesi and the Flagellants, who sang them in the towns, along the roads, in their confraternities and in sacred dramatical representations. With hindsight, the use of the laudi may be seen as an early seed of Italian drama that came to fruition in later centuries.

The Latin poem Stabat Mater Dolorosa is often attributed to Jacopone, although this has been disputed. It is a fine example of religious lyric in the Franciscan tradition. It was inserted into the Roman Missal and Breviary in 1727 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on the Friday before Good Friday. Following changes by Pius XII, it now appears on the Feast of Our Lady's Sorrows celebrated on 15 September. Many composers have set it to music, including Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Palestrina, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Gioacchino Rossini and Antonín Dvořák.

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Sing for Very Love

Thou, Jubilus, the heart dost move;
And makest us sing for very love.

The Jubilus in fire awakes,
And straight the man must sing and pray;
His tongue in childish stammering shakes,
Nor knows he what his lips may say;
He cannot quench nor hide away
That Sweetness pure and infinite.

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