Oh Saving Victim (O salutaris Hostia)

Song by:
text by Saint Thomas Aquinas; music by Lorenzo Perosi
Testimony by:
Roberto Navarrete
Experience in:
Cárcel de Santiago, November 1973 - April 1974

The political prisoners’ cell block in Santiago Prison was established when they transferred many people from the National Stadium in October or November 1973. I was first held in the Stadium. I was 18 when they arrested me.

Political prisoners were held in cell block 5. Among others there were journalists, doctors, actors and a senator. Our block was close to the block where the constitutionalist officers of the Chilean Air Force (FACH) were being held, including Michelle Bachelet's father.

The public activities we undertook in the prison included playing football, chess, table tennis and a range of training workshops. There was a choir. I don’t remember exactly when or how it was formed. Most of the choir members were much older than me. Its director was a political prisoner and had been a deacon in his youth. The choir sounded nice.

I can only remember one of the songs we sang: "O salutaris Hostia", a religious song in several parts. I remember this because I’d never sung a song of this kind before. I was a complete atheist. I also felt an inner reluctance: how were we going to sing religious canticles if what we normally sang were revolutionary songs?

Since none of us could read music, in the rehearsals the director would say, “right: this part sounds like this, and this other part like that.” We had a good time in the rehearsals. All of us who were there enjoyed singing. We sang "O salutaris Hostia" at a number of events organised by the political prisoners, including one I remember when we went and sang to the common prisoners. We felt we had done a good deed.

The prison warden in charge of us (non-commissioned officer Chandía) harangued us and said to us that "the political prisoners were very malevolent". Among ourselves we called the officer “the malevolent one". Then to show him that we were being serious we would sing "O salutaris Hostia". I imagine it must have made quite an impression on him given that he had been used to dealing with common prisoners.

Published on: 23 October 2015

O salutaris Hostia
Quae coeli pandis ostium
Bella premunt hostilia.

Da robur, fer auxilium.

Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.