The work was composed during the Middle Ages by German monk Hermann of Reichenau and originally appeared in Latin, the prevalent language of Western Christianity until modern times. Traditionally it has been sung in Latin, though many translations exist. These are often used as spoken prayers.
Marian antiphons have been sung, since the thirteenth century, at the close of compline, the last Office of the day. Peter Canisius (d. 1597) noted that one praises God in Mary when one turns to her in song. Liturgically, the Salve Regina is the best known of four prescribed Marian Anthems recited after Compline, and, in some uses, after Lauds or other Hours. Its use after compline is likely traceable to the monastic practice of intoning it in chapel and chanting it on the way to sleeping quarters. As a piece of music, it is not part of the much older Gregorian chant repertoire, but may date back to the 11th century.
Legends attributed it either to St. Anselm of Lucca (d. 1080) or St. Bernard. One legend story relates that, while the saint was acting as legate Apostolic in Germany, he entered (Christmas Eve, 1146) the cathedral to the processional chanting of the anthem, and, as the words "O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria" were being sung, genuflected thrice.
However, the authorship is now generally ascribed to Hermann of Reichenau. Durandus, in his "Rationale", ascribed it to Petrus of Monsoro (d. about 1000), Bishop of Compostela. It has also been attributed to Adhémar, Bishop of Podium (Puy-en-Velay), whence it has been styled "Antiphona de Podio" (Anthem of Le Puy). Adhémar was the first to ask permission to go on the crusade, and the first to receive the cross from Pope Urban II. "Before his departure, towards the end of October, 1096, he composed the war-song of the crusade, in which he asked the intercession of the Queen of Heaven, the Salve Regina". He is said to have asked the monks of Cluny to admit it into their office, but no trace of its use in Cluny is known before the time of Peter the Venerable, who decreed (about 1135) that the anthem should be sung processionally on certain feasts.
It was set down in its current form at the Abbey of Cluny in the 12th century, where it was used as a processional hymn on Marian feasts. The Cistercians chanted the Salve Regina daily from 1218. The use of the anthem at Compline was begun by the Dominicans about 1221, and was rapidly propagated by them. It was popular at medieval universities as evening song, and according to Juniper Carol, it came to be part of the ritual for the blessing of a ship.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui gloriosæ Virginis Matris Mariæ corpus et animam, ut dignum Filii tui habitaculum effici mereretur, Spiritu Sancto cooperante præparasti: da, ut cuius commemoratione lætamur; eius pia intercessione, ab instantibus malis, et a morte perpetua liberemur. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.
(in the version used by Catholics in the United Kingdom and in the Anglo-Catholic version, the wording "mourning and weeping in this vale of tears" is used in the 5th line)
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send forth our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.
℣ Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
℟ that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ, thy Son.
Let us pray:
Almighty, everlasting God, who by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin-Mother Mary to become a dwelling-place meet for thy Son: grant that as we rejoice in her commemoration; so by her fervent intercession we may be delivered from present evils and from everlasting death. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Salve Regina was one of the Leonine Prayers, in which context the collect at the end was replaced by different text:
Let us pray:
O God, our refuge and our strength, look down with mercy upon the people who cry to Thee; and by the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in Thy mercy and goodness hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.