Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christ, the Fair Glory

Christe, Sanctorum decus Angelorum is the hymn at Lauds on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  This is a version in English, with a metric tune, apparently sung at St. Thomas Church NYC; it's part of a playlist, so if you like Anglican hymns, keep watching!

CyberHymnal has the words; what's on the video is a slightly different version overall, though:

Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels,
Thou Who hast made us, Thou Who o’er us rulest,
Grant of Thy mercy unto us Thy servants
Steps up to Heaven.

Send Thy archangel, Michael, to our succor;
Peacemaker blessèd, may he banish from us
Striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful
All things may prosper.

Send Thy archangel, Gabriel, the mighty;
Herald of Heaven, may he from us mortals
Spurn the old serpent, watching o’er the temples
Where Thou art worshipped.

Send thy archangel, Raphael, the restorer
Of the misguided ways of men who wander,
Who at Thy bidding strengthens soul and body
With Thine anointing.

Father almighty, Son and Holy Spirit,
God ever blessèd, be Thou our Preserver;
Thine is the glory which the angels worship,
Veiling their faces.

The original words to this hymn are very old, written by Rhabanus Maurus sometime in the early 9th Century. Cyberhymnal has more on this hymn, including a midi file here, and says that:
Maurus was ed­u­cat­ed in Tours, France, around 802. In 803, he be­came di­rect­or of the Ben­e­dict­ine school at Ful­da, Ger­ma­ny. He was or­dained in 814 and went on a pil­grim­age to the Ho­ly Land. He be­came ab­bot at Ful­da in 822, and served there two de­cades. In 847, he was ap­point­ed arch­bi­shop of Mainz.

Maurus also apparently wrote the words for the Vespers hymn for this feast: Tibi Christe, Splendor Patris.

Here's something interesting about Caelites plaudant:
The text 'Christ, the fair glory of the holy angles,' is a translation of a 9th C. office hymn for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, Christe sanctorum decus angelorum. This hymn names the celestial visitors who have graced this earth, and once again calls on them to renew their graces: Chrst the Savior, three archangels (Michael, defender; Gabriel, herald; Raphael, healer), Mary, the saints, and all the company of angels. The hymn concludes with a doxology.

The English text appeared in the 1906 hymnal, matched to Caelites plaudant, a French tune from the Rouen Antiphoner newly harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a majestic setting that is today a fixture for Michaelmas. The tune is one of very few that supports the the peculiar Greek poetic form known as Sapphic meter (, named for the Greek poet who used this verse form for a significant portion of her work. The tune name means 'from heaven praise,' and is also sometimes spelled Coelites plaudant.

The Latin version of this hymn is also sung to another French tune from the same period, Christe sanctorum, which takes it's name from the words of the hymn, and in The Hymnal 1982, is given the honor of being hymn 1.

And it all comes together, doesn't it? RVW and the folk tune project involved, too! (Some day I'll have to write about that, too. I just discovered, very much by accident, that the text for one of my very favorite RVW hymns, "Monk's Gate" in the 1982 hymnal, "He who would valiant be," comes from Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress"! There are a lot of really interesting, and for me unsuspected and unexpected, connections between music and literature of different eras. This makes me even more eager to promote deep theology that will stand up to the test of time and make further such connections.)

(And, BTW, as I've written before: Sapphic meter ( is my favorite meter! It's actually used for many of the Office hymns - in particular the one hymn sung, with varying words, for the Commons of Saints. But also others, including Ut Queant Laxis. It would be mighty interesting to research this fact, actually; I wonder if it's coming from Prudentius or somebody very early? Or if, instead, it was simply a popular rhythm around the time Benedict and contemps? It's a dramatic meter; the last line gets a strong emphasis simply being so different from - and so much shorter than - the first three. Well, that's on the list, too, then.)

All very interesting.

I'd like to find a good plainchant recording of this hymn, but haven't so far. When I do, I'll post it. (There was a fantastic vocal alternatim version of Dufay's Tibi Christe, Splendor Patri out there for awhile, but the YouTuber has closed his/her account. God, that was gorgeous.....)

BTW, there is a veritable cottage industry in YouTube videos dedicated to St. Michael - and especially to his battle against Satan. Well, as I've said before: I'm very much looking forward to the movie.

I believe this is an icon of St. Michael. It "comes from a gallery in Skopje, Macedonia, that mostly works on crafting and painting icons."

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