A Brief Note on Nestorian Hymns in China

Musical contributions and influences of foreign Christian missionaries in China can be dated, as nearly as any significant event can be, to 700 C.E. when the earliest Nestorian Christians went to China. Nestorianism enjoyed considerable patronage under Tai Zong and Gao Zong during the early Tang dynasty, but their religious activities suffered a huge blow after an interdiction issued by Wu Zong in 845 C.E.

Nestorian missions soon vanished, but they left behind, among other things, documents, numerous relics including a monument erected in 781 C.E. and three Christian hymns. One of these hymns, Daqin jingjiao sanwei meng du zan, was discovered by Professor Paul Pelliot in 1907-1908 in the Qianfodong (Thousand Buddha Caves) in Dunhuang ‘contained in a little roll, torn into three pieces, yet complete.’

The authorship of this hymn is attributed to two figures—a Bishop Cyriacus, head of an Nestorian Mission that went to China in 732 C.E. and a monk called Jing Jing. The two other hymns were Daqin jingjiao dasheng tongzhen guifa zan and the Jiu jie zhengdao jingzhou.

The text of all three hymns in China can be found Tao Yabing's A Draft History of Sino-Western Musical Exchange (1994:16-18).

I will be writing a much longer piece on Chinese hymnology, including the cycle of eight hymns penned by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci in a forthcoming post in the new year.

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