The Protestant hymn writer Paul Gerhardt translated the Latin hymn Salve caput cruentatum into German in 1656, the last year of his tenure as provost in Mittenwalde. In Gerhardt's time and for a long time afterwards, Bernhard of Clairvaux (c. 1090-1153) was considered the first author of the hymn; today it is attributed to Arnulf of Louvain (1200-1250). It is the concluding part of a cycle of seven meditations on the limbs of the Crucified (see also Membra Jesu nostri), handed down under the title Oratio Rhythmica, which Gerhardt rewrote in its entirety.
The melody in the Phrygian mode is a rhythmically simplified version of the love song Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret by Hans Leo Haßler (1564-1612), which first appeared in Haßler's Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng in 1601. As early as 1613, this melody had been assigned to the text by Christoph Knoll (1563-1621) Herzlich tut mich verlangen nach einem sel'gen End, written in 1599, in the songbook Harmoniae sacrae. In Gerhardt's time, it was known with this text in the Lutheran congregations.
Individual stanzas of the chorale were used by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), although Bach made the selection and order of the stanzas used himself rather than leaving it to his librettist Picander (1700-1764). Bach also used his sixth stanza in the cantata Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem (BWV 159), which deals with the announcement of the Passion. The melody also appears in Bach's Christmas Oratorio to Paul Gerhardt's text Wie soll ich dich empfangen, the first chorale in Part I (No. 5) and to Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen, the final chorus of Part VI.
The work was included in the Protestant hymnal as no. 85, in the Catholic Gotteslob as no. 289 (without original stanzas 5 and 7) and in the Mennonite hymnal as no. 291. With two melodic forms, it was also included in the hymnal of the Evangelical Methodist Church under nos. 206 and 207, in each case in a four-part choral setting ...