About the History of CIMS


During the Second Vatican Council, on November 22, 1963, on the feast of St. Cecilia, and on the very day of the vote on the Constitution on the Holy Liturgy, Pope Paul VI, through his handwritten Chirograph Nobile subsidium Liturgiæ, canonically erected the International Society of Sacred Music (CONSOCIATIO INTERNATIONALIS MUSICAE SACRAE) – CIMS – with its headquarters in Rome.

1961 Congress in Cologne

On March 9, 1964, Cardinal Secretary of State Cicognani informed Mgr. Professor Johannes Overath, expert (“Peritus”) at the Council and General President of the General Federation of Cecilian Associations for the German-speaking countries, of his appointment by the Pope to the post of President of the new CIMS. The Pope expressed the desire that this new International Society, placed under the patronage of the Cardinal Prefect of the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship, should play an advisory role in the field of Sacred Music to the bishops and episcopal conferences of the universal Church.

1962-1965 Vatican Council II

This decision was taken in the context of previous International Congresses of Sacred Music that had been convoked by the Holy See: in 1950 in Rome, in 1954 in Vienna, in 1957 in Paris and in 1961 in Cologne (internal link to the votes), which now had to be continued. The following congresses were those of Chicago-Milwaukee in 1966 (in preparation for the 1967 Roman Instruction Musicam Sacram for the application of the Council’s directives), Salzburg in 1974, Bonn in 1980 and Rome in 1985.

1966 Fifth Congress in Chicago-Milwaukee

Previous Symposia, which had already taken place in Salzburg in the 1970s on the most diverse current topics, continued over the following decades in cities or spiritual places such as: Maastricht, Leuven, Le Mans, Rome, Bolzano, Fontgombault, Marseille, São Paulo, Washington DC, Augsburg, Prague, Chartres, Beirut, Rio de Janeiro, Lublin, Avignon and Lyon.

Audience with Pope Paul VI in 1969

Msgr. Overath (right) with Msgr. Anglés i Pàmies presents to Pope Paul VI the volume of the Acts of the Congress of Chicago-Milwaukee on March 26 1969

1973 Tenth anniversary of CIMS in Rome

1974 Sixth Congress in Salzburg

Thanks to the preparatory work for the first Ethnomusicology Symposium in Rome in 1975, the Institute for Hymnological and Ethnomusicological Studies (Link to subpage) in Cologne was founded in 1977, with workstations in connection with the library and archive center of the Villa Reuter (“House of Sacred Music”) near the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach. 

1975 I. Symposium of Ethnomusicology of the CIMS in Rome

1979 Private audience of Mons. Overath with Pope John Paul II

Happy reunion after the papal election: Msgr. Johannes Overath in private audience with Pope John Paul II on March 26, 1979

The research focus of this institute at the time in the field of African ethnomusicology and the geographical proximity of its headquarters suggested the choice of the location and the program of the 7th International Congress in 1980 at the Bonn Science Center. In 1981, a Symposium on the theme of Sacred Music in Brazilian Culture was held in São Paulo with the foundation of the new Brazilian Society of Musicology.

1980 7th Congress in Bonn

During the 7th Congress in Bonn: the Catholic Centenary Memorial Choir from Kampala (Uganda) in the large West German broadcasting hall in Cologne
General Assembly at the Bonn-Bad Godesberg Science Center during the 7th Congress 1980 in Bonn
View of the Presidium at the General Assembly in Bonn: Msgr. Johannes Overath, Msgr. René Bernard Lenaerts, Jos Lennards and Jean-Pierre Schmit

In 1983, a particularly important Colloquium was held, in collaboration with the Ward International Movement, on Gregorian chant and musical education, at the Catholic University of America and at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

1983 Symposium on Gregorian chant in Washington, DC

Thirty-five years after the first Congress, the 8th Congress returned to Rome in 1985, on the occasion of the European Year of Music. During this Congress, the new headquarters of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (Pontifical Academy of Sacred Music), Via di Torre Rossa, 21, was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II, on the site of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Jerome, formerly founded by Pope St. Pius X in 1911, and whose main task was to complete the critical edition of the translation of the Vulgate of the Bible. The CIMS has, since its foundation, had its legal seat in this Pontifical Institute, whose former address at Piazza San Agostino 20 A (site of a historic festival hall), not far from Piazza Navona, is still legally in force. For this reason, in 1988, the 3rd Symposium of Ethnomusicology was held at the new headquarters.

1985 8th Congress in Rome


The General Assembly was then held in Augsburg in 1990, due to the high liturgical and artistic level of the infrastructure of the place and its exemplary character in terms of sacred music. In 1992, the Second International Symposium “Sacred Music and Brazilian Culture” was held in Rio de Janeiro to mark the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. It was the starting point of a vast research project of several years on the musical culture of the Indians of Latin America, particularly of the Amazon region, under the direction of Antonio A. Bispo, which was made possible with the support of the German Foreign Office. The fruits of this research were presented, in Portuguese and German, in four double volumes of the annual books Musices Aptatio, published by CIMS from 1994 to 2001.

1992 Symposium in Rio de Janeiro

1994 Symposium in Prague

1996 General Assembly in Montecassino

1997 Symposium in Lagos (Portugal)

After the 1995 General Assembly in Montecassino, the focus was on the Near and Middle East. From 1998 to 2004, three International Symposia were held at the University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik, north of Beirut, and were devoted to the following themes: “The Holy Spirit in the Sacred Music of the Churches of the East and West”, “Improvisation in the Sacred Song of Christianity and Islam”, and, concerning the particular questions of oriental music, “The Musical Work, Musicological Reflections and Consequences for Copyright”.

1998 Symposium in Lebanon

For the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, the General Assembly was held in the historic Palais des Papes in Avignon, accompanied by a Colloquium on “The Ordinary of the Mass as a Masterpiece between Culture and Cult”. 

2000 General Assembly in Avignon

In cooperation with the Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), in 2003, an International Symposium on “The History and Present of Sacred Music in Poland” served as a basis for future dialogue with the Slavonic Orthodox Churches on the sacred. In 2005 the General Assembly returned to Rome again with a symposium on “Education and Formation of Secular and Religious Clergy in and through Sacred Music”.

2004 Symposium in Lebanon

2005 Rome

Three years after Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the new revised edition of the Gregorian Vesperial Missal for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, with a concordance for the Ordinary Form, is published in 2010 with the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Madeleine du Barroux: the first practical response to this rehabilitation of the traditional Ordo. The Cardinal-Prefect of the Roman Congregation for the Liturgy, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, did not miss the opportunity to underline, in a substantial preface, the importance of this book for a liturgical renewal, and expressly thanked the CIMS for its support, as the official consultative body of the Holy See.

After some 54 years of research, the Institute for Hymnological and Ethnomusicological Studies of the CIMS, as the legitimate successor of the “Deutsches Kirchenliedarchiv” (German Church Song Archive) in Cologne, has presented at the University of Zurich, in collaboration with the Institute of Musicology of the same University, a scientific edition, in eight volumes, of more than 800 vernacular sacred songs of the German Middle Ages. 

2017 Presentation of the monumental edition ‘Sacred Songs of the German Middle Ages’ in Zurich

In his message, on the occasion of this event, Cardinal Sarah, as Prefect of the Roman Congregation pro Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, invited CIMS to hold a new General Assembly, especially after the death of its President, Fr. Prof. Dr. Louis Hage of the Lebanese Maronite Order, to elect a new Board. At the same time, Cardinal Sarah also gave the theme of the Symposium that was to accompany this General Assembly, namely the three main timeless criteria valid for all Sacred Music in the Church: sacredness, artistic quality and unifying force. In confirmation of the unanimous election of the General Assembly which took place in Lyon in October 2019, the Abbot of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Triors, Dom Hervé Courau OSB, the Director of the Institute of Musicology of the University of Zurich, Prof. Dr. Laurenz Lütteken, and the neurosurgeon and musicologist Dr. Jereon Boogaarts, of the Radboud University of Nijmegen, were appointed respectively President and Vice-Presidents, as well as moderators, of the CIMS by the Cardinal Prefect in January 2020.

2018 Consecration of the altar in the oratory of the Benedictine abbey of Triors

Meeting in Triors on the occasion of the consecration of the altar in the chapel of the hostel: (from left to right) Dom Hervé Courau abbot of Triors, the Prefect of the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship Robert Cardinal Sarah, Maud Hertz responsible for Musica Sacra in the Archdiocese of Lyon and the outgoing vice-president of CIMS Gabriel M. Steinschulte (Photo: A. Kurzrock)

2019 General Assembly and Symposium in Lyon