The Wessobrunn Prayer, sometimes called the Wessobrunn Creation Poem (German: Wessobrunner Gebet, Wessobrunner Schöpfungsgedicht), believed to date from c790, is among the earliest known poetic works in Old High German.
The poem is named after Wessobrunn Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, for centuries the repository of the sole manuscript, which is now in the Bavarian State Library in Munich (ref: Clm 22053, III, ff 65b/66a).
The date of composition is put at around 790 or a little later, while the surviving manuscript dates from about 814. The author of the verses is unknown, although from the content and a couple of linguistic features (see below), it seems highly probable that it was composed after an Anglo-Saxon model for use in the Christian missions to the heathen taking place in Germany at this time.
The place of origin of the manuscript is also unknown. It was not written in Wessobrunn; a number of Bavarian religious establishments could have produced it, the most likely being Augsburg or Regensburg. The conspicuous oddity in this manuscript of the use of the star-rune as a shorthand symbol for the syllable "ga-" is shared by only one other manuscript, also Bavarian, viz., Arundel MS. 393 in the British Library.
The poem is in two sections: the first is a praise of creation in nine lines of alliterative verse, and the second is the actual prayer, in free prose. The two together constitute a prayer for the wisdom and strength to avoid sin.
The two-part structure is reminiscent of Germanic magic spells (as evidenced for example in the Merseburg Spells): a transcendental precedent is first evoked (in this instance the gift of creation made to human beings by the Creator), according to the pattern of which the thing prayed for may be performed.
Some features in the first section reflect the language and idiom of Old German oral epics, using stem- and introductory formulae known from the Anglo-Saxon and Old Saxon traditions (manno miltisto, dat gafregin ih). The concept of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) described here is however genuinely Christian. It has been speculated that the first five lines may once have been, or formed part of, an independent cosmogony.
The poem has been set to music many times in the 20th century. Arrangements include those by Heinrich Kaminski as part of the work Triptychon for voice and organ (1931), and by his pupil Carl Orff, published as part of the series Schulwerk (1950–54). Other settings include those by Hans Josef Wedig, op. 11, (Version 1) (1937), for male choir and organ, and the motet Mir gestand der Sterblichen Staunen als der Wunder grösstes... by Leopold Katt (d 1965).
More recent interpretations by composers in the classical tradition include those by Felix Werder in 1975 for voice and small orchestra, and by Michael Radulescu in two works: De Poëta in 1988 for four choirs and bells, and in another arrangement of 1991 re-worked in 1998 for soprano and organ.
One of the most unusual settings is by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann in his Consolation II (1968), in which component phonetic parts of the words of the prayer are vocalised separately by the 16 solo voices in a texture of vocal 'music concrete'.
The Wessobrunner Gebet has also been set by the German mediaevally-inspired groups Estampie on their CD Fin Amor (2002) and In Extremo on theirs, Mein rasend Herz (2005).
The Wessobrunn Prayer serves as a clue to the illuminated conspiracy in Oliver Pötzsch's second novel, The Dark Monk: A Hangman's Daughter Tale (2012).