Palästinalied, written by the famous medieval bard Walther von der Vogelweide, is one of the few Middle Ages songs whose lyrics and music have survived to this day. It was a propaganda song of Christian knights vanquishing unbelievers in the Holy Land.
Walther von Vogelweide
Walther von Vogelweide pictured in Codex Mannese
Walther von Vogelweide (1170-1230) was already a celebrity in his times and he was depicted in beautifully illuminated “Codex Mannese”. This German XIVth century book features 137 colorful scenes from life of knights and one of them is Herr (Sir) von Wogelweide. His coat of arms is a bird on the harp, which refers to his name “Bird’s Meadow” (der Vogelweide), and given to him because of the origin, a place where he was born, to associate him with music. This means that he was a poor knight without a land and probably a vassal of a wealthy nobleman. Also, “bird meadow” does not refer to one place in Germany, and could mean one of many villages of the same name, so his actual birthplace is a mystery.
As an impoverished knight, he had to travel from castle to castle, staying in courts and composing songs in exchange for care. He quickly become an itinerant and capable bard that involved himself in politics and took the side Germany in the dispute between the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV and the Pope.
He participated in the Fifth Crusade and after returning to the country, met Emperor Frederick II, who as a great patron of art and science, granted him a village in Bavaria, where he eventually settled. He died around 1230 and, according to a legend, ordered that birds should be fed on his grave every day. In 1843 town residents erected a monument, and in 1877 he was given another one, in Bolzano, Italy.
Monument in Bolzano
But in the Middle Ages he was renowned as a minnesinger – a love singer, bard that composed romantic poems. He wrote about 200 songs, about half them about love and the other about medieval politics. He was celebrated, because he treated love with passion, and the relationship between a man and a woman is considered one of the best things that can happen. His most famous love poem is “Unter den Linden” – “Under the lime tree”. This was somewhat in contradiction with the medieval Christian theology that viewed romantic commitment as the sin of lust and passion.
Von Wogelweide also wrote a song popularizing the Fifth Crusade and encouraging Christians to take up arms against the infidels. It is a testimony to the medieval sentiments and one of the few Medieval music pieces that has been preserved in its entirety, including notation.
So, here it is. It’s contemporary performance by the Hungarian singer Arany Zoltan, played on the medieval instruments. Enjoy your Middle Ages pop hit:
Now my life has gained some meaning
since these sinful eyes behold
the sacred land with meadows greening
whose renown is often told.
This was granted me from God:
to see the land, the holy sod,
which in human form He trod.
Splendid lands of wealth and power,
I’ve seen many, far and near,
yet of all are you the flower.
What a wonder happened here!
That a maid a child should bear,
Lord of all the angels fair,
was not this a wonder rare?
Here was He baptized, the Holy,
that all people might be pure.
Here He died, betrayed and lowly,
that our bonds should not endure.
Else our fate had been severe.
Hail, O cross, thorns and spear!
Heathens, woe! Your rage is clear.
It is full of religious passion and a true confession of faith sung by warriors going to a Crusade against enemies of Christianity. It was a motivational song for knights and volunteer soldiers who traveled all over Europe to reach Jerusalem and to wage war in Middle East. Walther von Vogelweide writes at the beginning, “Now my life has gained some meaning.” Like many, he considered war with unbelievers a just cause, a life goal. Although not much is known about his participation in the crusades, it is certain that he fought and saw the many wonders of Holy Land of Palestine, which he celebrates in his song.
There are also many modern interpretations of this song, like the one by Qntal – a Dark Wave electronic music:
Today, considering that the lyrics and song music have been fully preserved, this is an outstanding testimony of that tumultuous age. Or just awesome piece of music that stood the trial of time.