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.
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 up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley 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.
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.
and show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus:
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Another English translation:
Mary, we hail thee, Mother and queen compassionate: Mary, our comfort, life, and hope, we hail thee. To thee we exiles, children of Eve, lift our crying. To thee we are sighing, as mournful and weeping, we pass through this vale of sorrow. Turn thou, therefore, O our intercessor, those thine eyes of pity and loving-kindness upon us sinners. Hereafter, when our earthly exile shall be ended show us Jesus the blessed fruit of thy womb, O gentle, O tender, O gracious Virgin Mary.
It is usually attributed either to St. Anselm of Lucca (d. 1080) or St. Bernard. There are two legends connecting the anthem with the Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. One legend 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. According to the more common narrative, however, the saint added the triple invocation for the first time, moved thereto by a sudden inspiration. "Plates of brass were laid down in the pavement of the church, to mark the footsteps of the man of God to posterity, and the places where he so touchingly implored the clemency, the mercy, and the sweetness of the Blessed Virgin Mary" (Ratisbonne, "Life and Times of St. Bernard", American ed., 1855, p. 381, where fuller details are given).
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" (Migne, "Dict. des Croisades", s. v. Adhémar). 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, and has been widely used in Catholic liturgy since that time. It is commonly said after the completion of the rosary. Liturgically, it is one of four prescribed Marian Anthems recited after the office of Compline, and, in some uses, after Lauds or other Hours.
In the 18th century, the Salve Regina became a key focus of the classic Roman Catholic Mariology book The Glories of Mary by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. In the first, and key part of this book St. Alphonsus, a Doctor of the Church, discusses the Salve Regina in detail and based on it explains how God gave Mary to mankind as the "Gate of Heaven". The Salve Regina is traditionally sung at the end of a priest's funeral Mass out of reverence to Mary, the Mother of Christ, the High Priest, and all Priests.