The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Notes on
The 'O' Antiphons & Veni, Emmanuel

For Advent

Words: Veni, Veni, Emanuel (the "O" Antiphons),
Authorship Unknown, 8th Century Latin;
Published: Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 7th Edition, Köln, 1710.

Music: "Veni Emmanuel," Based on a 15th Century French Processional,
Arranged by Rev. Thomas Helmore  and harmonized by Rev. S. S. Greatheed in
Hymnal Noted, Part II (London: 1856) and

Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted-Part II
(London: 1858)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Melody Only: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Alternate Music, Including But Not Limited To:
"St. Petersburg," Dimitri S. Bortniansky
"Veni Emmanuel," Charles F. Gounod (1818-1893)
"Ephretah," arranged by Henry John Gauntlett (1876)
"Emmanuel" (as distinguished from Veni Immanuel)
"Spires" (German) from Church Hymns (1903)
"Veni, O Sapientiæ" Arranged and Adapted by Nicola A. Montani
"Draw Nigh" by H. J. Gauntlett and Charles Gounod

Meter: 88.88.88

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
Behold, a virgin shall be with child,
and shall bring forth a son,
and they shall call his name Emmanuel,
which being interpreted is,
God with us.
Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 (KJV)

"The Great Antiphons, the Heralds of Christmas"
John Henry Newman, A Letter Addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey. D.D., On His Recent Eirenicon. Third Edition.
(London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866), p. 123.

Antiphon. (From the Greek Άντίφωνον; Latin, antiphona). A psalm verse or sentence from Holy Scripture chanted or recited at the beginning and at the close of a Psalm or the Magnificat during Matins and Vespers. Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia and John Julian, The Dictionary of Hymnology.

According to Dr. John Julian, the word "Antiphon" can also denote a short versicle01 said at the beginning and close of a Psalm or Psalms in the Breviary Offices. But it has also borne the other meanings, which are not yet entirely obsolete.02  Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 72-74.

Dom Prosper Gueranger begins his discussion for December 17 in this manner:

The Church enters to-day on the seven days, which precede the Vigil of Christmas, and which are known in the Liturgy under the name, of the Greater Ferias. The ordinary of the Advent Office becomes more solemn ; the Antiphons of the Psalms, both for Lauds and the Hours of the day, are proper, and allude expressly to the great Coming. Every day, at Vespers, is sung a solemn Antiphon, which consists of a fervent prayer to the Messias, whom it addresses by one of the titles given him by the sacred Scriptures.

In the Roman Church, there are seven of these Antiphons, one for each of the Greater Ferias. They are commonly called the O's of Advent, because they all begin with that interjection.

Source: Very Rev. Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgial Year: Advent, Volume 1 of 12, Second Edition, Trans. Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. (Dublin: James Duffy, 1870), Dec. 17, p. 508.

Part I. Background of the Seven "O" Antiphons

For centuries, the Christian churches have used antiphons in her liturgies, honoring and celebrating many persons, saints and events in the Church's life. In his article on the topic of Antiphons, Dr. John Julian found it appropriate to give "special mention" to seven Antiphons that have become known as the "O Antiphons" or “The Seven O’s." These seven antiphons were recited on seven consecutive days that have become known as the Greater Ferias, and for that reason, the antiphons have been called the Greater Antiphons and the Great O's. The Church has also had other well-known groups of antiphons in history.03

This set of antiphons is chanted during the evening Vespers prayers, both before and after The Magnificat.04 Before the Reformation the antiphons were recited each evening, except for December 21st, as it was the celebration of the feast of St. Thomas.  But after the Reformation, they were recited from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23.

The reason why these Antiphons were recited during the Vespers prayers has been extensively discussed. One opinion, among the many, is this from Dom Prosper Gueranger.

The canonical Hour of Vespers has been selected as the most appropriate time for this solemn supplication to our Saviour, because, as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the Evening of the world (vergente mundi vespere) that the Messias came amongst us. These Antiphons are sung at the Magnificat, to show us that the Saviour, whom we expect, is to come to us by Mary. They are sung twice ; once before and once after the Canticle, as on Double Feasts, and this to show their great solemnity. ... Lastly, these admirable Antiphons, which contain the whole pith of the Advent Liturgy, are accompanied by a chant replete with melodious gravity, and by ceremonies of great expressiveness, though, in these latter, there is no uniform practice followed.

Let us enter into the spirit of the Church ; let us reflect on the great Day which is coming ; that thus we may take our share in these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, and to which He at length yields.

Source: Very Rev. Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., Dec. 17, p. 509.

Each of the seven antiphons addresses Christ by one of His Scriptural names or titles,05 each one praises the coming of the Savior by a different name, and each one closes with a petition appropriate to the title.06 For example:

     O Emmanuel, God with us,
     Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Saviour:
Closing Petition:

     Come to save us, O Lord our God. Amen.

The first of these antiphons is

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O eternal Wisdom, which proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of creation unto the other, mightily and harmoniously disposing all things: Come Thou to teach us the way of understanding.

In this antiphon, Christ is addressed by the title of "eternal Wisdom," and the petition asked of Him is: "Come Thou to teach us the way of understanding."

The “titles” of the original seven antiphons are:

  1. O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi... (O Wisdom from on high...)

  2. O Adonai et dux domus Israel... (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel...)

  3. O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum... (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people...)

  4. O Clavis David et sceptrum domus... (O Key of David and scepter of our home...)

  5. O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae... (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light...)

  6. O Rex gentium et desideratus... (O longed-for King of the nations...)

  7. O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster... (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver...)

One verse was sung or chanted each evening, as opposed to being sung together as a single hymn, such as the one translated and arranged by Dr. John Mason Neale, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

According to one source, on December 17th the Abbot would intone the first Antiphon, O Sapientia. On successive nights, each principal officer of the monastery would take his turn with another of the Antiphons.07  After the service, the officer was expected to provide some sort of treat, usually edible, for all the monks; this was considered an additional allowance of food made to the common fare, and was called a pitancia, that is, a pitance. Green, p. 233. In addition, we have records of individuals who were guests of the monastery who, after having intoned an antiphon, provided a cash gift. Everard Green gave three examples of different individuals who are given the privilege of reciting or chanting the Great Antiphon on particular days in his 1885 article in Archaelogia, "On the words 'O Sapientia' in the Kalendar", pp. 231-2.

Likewise in several financial Rolls we find itemizations of the payments by individuals who had the honor to start the choir on a particular Great O Antiphon. One example, in some detail, is from the Roll at Worcester; see Compotus Rolls of the Priory of Worcester.

The antiphons date back at least to the reign of Charlemagne (771-814) in the late 8th Century. The 439 lines of the English poem Christ, by Cynewulf (c. 800), are described as a loose translation and elaboration of the Antiphons.08 Several sources stated that Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence in the 6th Century.09

In his article, Mr. Green observed:

... the words of these seven great O's are for the most part taken from Holy Scripture, and the fourth, O Clavis David, is thus mentioned in the 14th chapter of the life of our countryman, the great Alcuin, who was born at York, and who died at Tours on Whitsunday of the year 804....10

In addition to providing evidence of the use of the Greater Antiphons in the last half of the 700s, the evidence from the life of Alcuin seems to show a well-developed tradition at that time. We can see this from a footnote that the author of the biography provided. He wrote:

"O clavis David. Est haec antiphona ex celebribus, quae septem diebus ante Natalitia Domini ad Vesperas recitantur; et haec refertur ad 20 Decembris. Henschen."

My Latin is almost non-existent, but this footnote seems to indicate that the antiphon O Clavis David was recited on December 20th, which is also the case in many contemporary traditions where the original seven Antiphons are celebrated beginning on December 17th.

It appears that the Life of Alcuin (Vita Alcuin) from which this quotation was taken was written in the 820s by a disciple of Alcuin who died in 804. The pages below come from a reprinting of Vita Alcuin in 1777:

Beati_Flacci_Albini_Sev_Alcvini_Abbatis-1777-Title_Page.jpg (65862 bytes) Alcuini_LXVIII-Caput_XIV-Beati Alcuini obitus-XXVII-1777.jpg (129869 bytes) Alcuini_LXVIII-Caput_XIV-Beati Alcuini obitus-XXVII-1777-02.jpg (316982 bytes)

This copy of "Vita Beati Flacci Alcuini Abbatis," Capus XIV, "Beati Alcuini obitus," Paragraph 27, p. LXVII, was reproduced in Beati Flacci Albini Sev Alcvini Abbatis, Vol. 1 (Literis Joannis Michaelis Englerth, 1777). It has been often reproduced, including in Volume 100 of J. P. Migne's series Patrologiae cursus completus sive Biblotheca universalis in the 1800s.

Dr. Julian reports that the Latin text of the antiphons have been found in two 11th century English manuscripts, one in the Bodleian (Liturg. Misc. 366, f. 53b) and the other in the British Library (Harley MS. 2961, f. 10). As we can see, additions to the original seven came very early.

The Harley 2961, also known as the Leofric Collectar, can be seen in the British Libraries' Digitized Manuscripts. It contains the following ten prose antiphons, in order:

  1. O sapientia
  2. O adonay
  3. O radix iesse
  4. O clauis dauid
  5. O oriens splendor
  6. O rex gentium
  7. O emmanuhel [this is not a typographic error]
  8. O uirgo uirginum
  9. O thoma didime
  10. O rex iustitle

Since the last antiphon is recited at Lauds on December 23, if all ten are to be recited one evening at a time the first will need to be recited on December 14. The antiphons are found on folio 10r and folio 10v. The Collectar was bequeathed in his last will and testament by Bishop Leofric of Exeter to Exeter Cathedral; it is believed to have been made at Exeter during his episcopate, 1050-1072.

Harley MS 2961 at the British Library

harley_2961-f10r.jpg (51212 bytes) harley_2961-f10v.jpg (63119 bytes)

E. S. Dewick, ed., The Leofric Collectar (Harl. MS. 2961). Vol. 1. (London: Harrison and Sons, 1914), columns 15 & 16.

Leofric_titlepage.jpg (18310 bytes) leofric_col15-16.jpg (103388 bytes)

The seven Great O's can be found in Abbot David Gregor Corner,11 Promptuarium catholicae devotionis, selectissimas devote orandi meditandi, et psallendi formulas complectens (1635), p. 271.

Corner-Promptuarium catholicae devotionis-1635-Title_Page.jpg (115963 bytes) Corner-Promptuarium catholicae devotionis-1635-p271.jpg (98604 bytes)

They are also found in his 1645 and 1672 editions of the Magnum promptuarium catholicae devotionis, selectissimas devotè orandi, meditandi, et psallendi formulas complectens; the Antiphons are found on p. 295 of the 1645 edition (below). They can also be seen in his Horologivm Christianae Pietatis Per Selectissimas Orandi Formulas ex Optimis Sacris Antiqvisqve Avthoribvs Instrvctvm (1688), p. 476.

Corner-Magnum promptuarium-1645-Title_Page.jpg (132185 bytes) Corner-Magnum promptuarium-1645-p295.jpg (109504 bytes)

In the middle ages, the usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance.

Although numerous additional verses have been added to the original seven,12 it is clear that the first seven were designed as a group, since their initial letters (ignoring the 'O' that precedes each line) spell out the reverse acrostic 'SARCORE' — 'ero cras' — that is, "I shall be [with you] tomorrow."


Additional Antiphons.

Editor's Note: Much of the next part of this article comes from Everard Green, F.S.A., "On the words 'O Sapientia' in the Kalendar," from Archaelogia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Vol. 49. (London: Nichols and Sons for the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1885) pp. 219-242. This was a paper read before the Society on December 11, 1884. The initials F.S.A. stands for "Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries."

While the seven antiphons we've described seem to have formed the core, additional antiphons have been added over the centuries.

Amalarius (c.775–c.850), temporary bishop of Trier (812–13) and Lyon (865–68) in his Liber de Ordine Antiphonarii, cap. 13, adds an 8th, which is also found in the Sarum, York and Hereford Breviaries:—

The Great O to St. Thomas the Apostle, whose feast day is on Dec. 21, dates from at least the 11th century:

Another early addition was:

The original seven, plus these three, are found in two 11th century English manuscripts, one in the Bodleian (MSS Liturg. Misc. 366, f. 53b) and the other in the British Library (Harley M.S. 2961, f. 10).

According to Mr. Green, O Rex pacifice and three additional Great O's are found in the Codices Forojulienses, and in an 11th Century manuscript at S. Gall:

Translations of these four Great O's into English by Mr. Green is found on p. 226 of his article.

Another Antiphon was found in four French religious centers, and "from the days of [Archbishop] Lanfranc at Canterbury" (late 11th Century):

Green notes that another Great O was found in the Liege Breviary, and sung on Dec. 23:

We are also told that the breviaries of the Parisian Rite have five additional Great O's:

See: Antiphones Majores - Breviarium Parisiense.

Mr. Green provided his translations of these Antiphons. See: O Wisdom That Proceedest-Green-1885.

For those who are counting, this gives us a total of 20 "Great O's"! For the full Latin texts and English translations, see: Some Additional Antiphons.

Michael Martin, in Veni Emmanuel at his "Thesaurus Precum Latinarum: Treasury of Latin Prayers," has the alignment between the Latin hymn and English translations, as well as other excellent resources for the Latin student or scholar.


On the Naming Books, Services, Seasons and Sundays.

According to Dr. Julian, books, services, and seasons were sometimes named after the opening words of Antiphons. The Gradual one of seven major liturgical books was once known as the "Ad te levavi,” from the first words of the Antiphona for the First Sunday in Advent, which was based on Psalm 22 (Leofric Missal, p. xxii.). We see this text from the 1791 Roman Breviary:

Ad te levavi oculos meos, *
qui habitas in coelis.
E cce sicut oculi servorum , * in
manibus dominorum suorum ,
Sicut oculi ancillæ in manibus
dominæ suæ : * ita oculi nostri
ad Dominum Deum nostrum,
donee misereatur nostri.
Miserere nostri Domine, mi
serere nostri : * quia multum
repleti sumus despectione :
Quia multum repleta est anima
nostra : * opprobrium abundantibus
, & despectio superbis.
Antiphona. Qui habitas in coelis,
miserere nobis.

Vespers for the Dead were called Placebo, from the Antiphon of the first Psalm, and the Matins for the Dead were called Dirige, from the corresponding Antiphon in that service.

Sundays and other days have been, and still are, called after the opening words of their Introits, as, for example, the First Sunday in Lent is called Invocavit me; the Second Sunday in Lent Ileminiscere, and so forth. In many denominations, the third Sunday in Advent is still referred to as Gaudete Sunday, from the first word in the Entrance Antiphon (which comes from Philippians 4:4-5):

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (NIV)

In the Courts and Universities

In both the courts and the universities, the first night of the "O Antiphons" marked the end of a term of the courts, and the end of a school term, or break in lectures, during the semester.

Thomas Emerson, an attorney of the Court of King's Bench, and one of the four attorneys of the Lord Mayor's Court, writing in 1794, observed:

"The business of this court is adjourned by proclamation in Guildhall for the vacations of August and Christmas only, and upon making such proclamations apprenticiality is always excepted, so that any matters relative thereto may be proceeded in as if the court had not been adjourned. ... The adjournment for the Christmas vacation takes, place on the 16th of December, O Sapientia, and opens the first Monday after the 6th of January, the feast of the Epiphany, if a court day, if not, then on the next court day following. Any business of the court may be transacted on either adjournment-day prior to the proclamation of adjournment being made." Source: Thomas Emerson, A Concise Treatise on the Courts of the Law of the City of London (London: J. Nichols, 1794), p. 41.

In an undated manuscript in the Bodleian Library authored by John Gutch, M.A., Chaplain of All Souls and Corpus Christi Colleges, we learn that the first of the three academic Terms commenced on October 11 and concluded on December 18. The translation by Antony á Wood, The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford (1796), observed that the winter break began "... on the morrow after O Sapientia, which is 8 days before the Nativity. This Term is with us called Michaelmas Term, and is accounted the first of the Academical year." This was true of the English and American Universities, as well as the French and Spanish Universities.13 Michaelmas is a common name for the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, celebrated on 29 September.

Editor's Note. The Hymnal Noted, Part 1 and Part 2, and the Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted, have provided several lengthy headaches when it comes to the issue of dates. In an attempt to get some degree of closure, reference was made to the various editions available at Google Books, The Internet Archive, and Worldcat. The dates below are the earliest dates that I have seen attached to these various editions, although I have also seen some earlier references elsewhere.

  • Hymnal Noted, Part I - 1851, but more often 1852.

  • Hymnal Noted, Part II - 1856. Although I've seen a date of 1854, there was no copy with that date at the above three references

  • Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I - 1851, but more often 1852.

  • Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I - 1858.

I have attempted to repair any occurrences that differ from the above, but one or two may have escaped my attention. Your kind indulgence will be appreciated.

Scriptural Bases of the Great Advent Antiphons

As noted above, the structure of each Antiphon addresses Christ by one of his Titles as given in Scripture. In addition, the petitions themselves also frequently have a Scriptural basis. In looking at a number of resources, sometimes a large number if verses can be referenced by a particular Antiphon. What follows is shorter listing from John Mason Neale. However, a fuller listing incorporating verses from a number of authorities is available; see: Scriptural Bases of O Antiphons.

The Greater Antiphons
At Even-song During the Eight Days Before Christmas

Translation from the Verses found in the Salisbury Antiphonary (Paris, 1519) by John Mason Neale.

Source: John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted - Parts I and II. (London: Novello, 1856), pp. 207-209, and John Mason Neale, The Words of the Hymnal Noted, Complete With Scriptural References. (London: J. A. Novello and J. Masters, 1852), pp. 130-132.

Scriptural references are from the 1889 Douay-Rheims Bible, American Edition.

1. O Sapientia Evening Antiphon for December 16

O Wisdom, Which camest forth out of the mouth of the Most High,a
and reachest from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things;
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

a. Wisdom 8:1. She reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly.

2. O Adonai Evening Antiphon for December 17

O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel,b
Who appearedst unto Moses in a flame of fire in the bush,c
and gavest unto him the Law of Sinai:d
Come redeem us with a stretched-out arm.

b. 1 Samuel 12:12. But seeing that Naas king of the children of Ammon was come against you, you said to me: Nay, but a king shall reign over us: whereas the Lord your God was your king.

c. Exodus 3:2. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt.

d. Exodus 19:11. And let them be ready against the third day: for on the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
   Acts 7:30. And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the desert of mount Sina, an angel in a flame of fire in a bush.

e. Deuteronomy 26:8. And brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand, and a stretched out arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders:

3. O Radix Jesse Evening Antiphon for December 18

O Root of Jesse,f Who standest for an ensign of the people,g
at Whom Kings shall shut their mouths,
unto Whom the Gentiles shall pray:
Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

f. Isaiah 11:10.  In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious.;
   Romans 15:12.

[Editor's Note. And also Isaiah 11:1. And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.]

g. Isaiah 3:15. Why do you consume my people, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord the God of hosts.

4. O Clavis David Evening Antiphon for December 19

O Key of David,h and Scepture of the House of Israel,i
Thou That openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth:k
Come, and lose the prisoner from the prison house,l
and him that sitteth in darkness, from the shadow of death.

h. Revelation 3:7. And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth: [emphasis added]

i. Numbers 24:17. I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth.

k. Isaiah 22:22. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.

l. Psalm 107:16. Because he hath broken gates of brass, and burst the iron bars. [In the Douay-Rheims Bible, this is Psalm 106:17. Ed.]

5. O Oriens Evening Antiphon for December 20

O Orient,m Brightest of the Eternal Light,n
and Sun of Righteousness:o
Come and lighten them that sit in darkness,p
and in the shadow of death.

m. Zechariah 3:8. "My servant in the East." [Editor's Note: Rev. Neale gave the foregoing text; the full citation from Zechariah 3:8 is "Hear, O Jesus thou high priest, thou and thy friends that dwell before thee, for they are portending men: for behold I WILL BRING MY SERVANT THE ORIENT."]

n. Hebrews 1:3. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.

o. Malachi 4:2. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd.

p. Luke 1:79. To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace.

6. O Rex Gentium Evening Antiphon for December 21

O King of the Gentiles,q and their Desire,
the Corner-stone,r Who madest both one:
Come and save man,
whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth.s

q. Haggai 2:7. For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.

r. Ephesians 2:14. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh:

s. Genesis 2:7. And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

7. O Emmanuel Evening Antiphon for December 22

O Emmanuel,t our King and Lawgiver,u
the Desire of all Nations,v and their Saviour:
Come and save us,w
O Lord our God.

t. Matthew 1:23. Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

u. Isaiah 33:22. For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king: he will save us.

v. Haggai 2:7. For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.

w. Isaiah 25:9. And they shall say in that day: Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord, we have patiently waited for him, we shall rejoice and be joyfull in his salvation.

8. O Virgo Virginum Evening Antiphon for December 23

O Virgin of Virgins,x how shall this be?
For neither before thee was there any like thee,
nor shall there be after. —y
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?z
The thing that ye behold is a divine mystery.aa

x. Luke 1:34. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

y. Jeremiah 31:22. How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN.

z. Acts 3:12.  But Peter seeing, made answer to the people: Ye men of Israel, why wonder you at this? or why look you upon us, as if by our strength or power we had made this man to walk?

aa. 1 Timothy 6:16. Who only hath immortality, and inhabiteth light inaccessible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and empire everlasting. Amen.

Again, only a few verses have been quoted for each Antiphon, among the many available. A fuller listing of Bible verses that have been (randomly) collected are here: Scriptural Bases of the Seven O Antiphons.

The rich scriptural underpinnings of these antiphons provides a solid basis for meditations based on the antiphons. One example is Points for Meditation on the Great Antiphons for the Eight Days Before Christmas by the Rev. A. C. A. Hall, S.S.J.E., in St. Margaret's Magazine. Volume 2 of 2. (London: Skeffington & Son, and Griffith, Farran & Co., 1891), pp. 286-292; the link opens in a new window at the Internet Archive, The founder of St. Margaret's Sisterhood was Rev. John Mason Neale. A later Advent Meditation by Bishop Hall is also worth considering during the preparation for the Birth of Christ, The Advent Antiphons (1914).

The 'O' Antiphons continue to be the inspiration for prayerful preparation for the birth of The Messiah as it has been incorporated into a number of Advent Novenas, recited in the 8 days before Christmas, that is, December 16 through December 24, inclusive, such as the one found at The Liturgy Archive, the Advent Novena, and this A Devotion for the Last Days of Advent.

Text and musical accompaniment to "The Greater Antiphons" from Neale and Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted - Parts I and II. (1856), pp. 207-209.

Musical Scores to "The Greater Antiphons" from Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies To The Hymnal Noted, Part II (1858), pp. 348-353.

Helmore-O_Sapientia-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p348.jpg (96274 bytes) Helmore-O_Adonoi-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p349.jpg (100363 bytes) Helmore-O_Radix_Jesse-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p350.jpg (99259 bytes) Helmore-O_Clavis_David-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p351.jpg (107192 bytes) Helmore-O_Oriens-O_Rex_Gntm1-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p352.jpg (104267 bytes) Helmore-O_Rex_Gntm2-O_Emmanuel-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p353.jpg (109793 bytes)

Musical Score to "O Virgo Virginum" from Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies (1858), p. 354.

Helmore-O_Virgo_Virginum-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p354.jpg (104795 bytes)

At least in the Roman churches, both the language of the Antiphons and its music have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries. These two examples were separated by about 600 years, with only a very few differences between the two.

Source: The Poissy Antiphonal, c. 1335-1345, an Antiphonary written for the use of the Dominican nuns at Poissy-St Louis.

Source: Antiphonale sacrosanctae Romamae ecclesiae pro diurnis horis (The Vatican, 1912), p. 205.


There was an interesting comment in the article by Mr. Everard Green, who observed:

The music of the seven Gregorian O's in the Ratisbon Vesperale is probably the most pure. It differs but little from the notation in the Mechlin Vesperale, which last most English antiquaries know through Mr. Helmore's Musical Accompaniment to the Hymnal Noted.

As we have the music provided by Rev. Helmore above, it might be interesting to see the music to the Antiphonæ Majorae in these two Vesperales:

Ratisbon Vesperale

Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Ratisbon-1882-p71.jpg (80533 bytes) Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Ratisbon-1882-p72.jpg (71917 bytes) Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Ratisbon-1882-p73.jpg (68708 bytes) Vesperale_Romanum-Ratisbon-1882-Title_Page.jpg (52531 bytes)

Mechlin Vesperale

Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Mechlin-1848-p16.jpg (78417 bytes) Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Mechlin-1848-p17.jpg (72086 bytes) Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Mechlin-1848-p18.jpg (72231 bytes) Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Mechlin-1848-p19.jpg (72784 bytes)

Antiphonae_majores-Vesperale_Romanum-Mechlin-1848-p20.jpg (68450 bytes) Vesperale Romanum-Mechlin-1848-Title_Page.jpg (35230 bytes)

Source: Vesperale Romanum juxta ordinem breviarii Romani, cum cantu emendato (Ratisbon, 1882) Source: Vesperale Romanum juxta ordinem breviarii Romani, cum cantu emendato (Mechliniæ, 1848)


Mr. Green also mentioned that a good source for authentic ancient melodies was C.C. [Charles Child] Spencer, Short Anthems and Introits Adapted to the Course of the Ecclesiastical Year (Burns, 1847). Unfortunately it is not available at either Google Books or the Internet Archive. When Worldcat was consulted, it appears that the only copy was found at the British Library (some 4,000 miles distant from my study).


The Antiphons Become A Hymn

At some time – Dr. Neale supposes about the 12th century – an unknown author took five of these Antiphons, and wove them into a hymn with five stanzas in the following order:—

i. O Emmanuel;

ii. O Radix Jesse;

iii. O Oriens;

iv. O Clavis David;

v. O Adonai.

This hymn began with the line :—

Veni, veni, Emmanuel,”

and adding to each verse the refrain, which is not found in the original prose :—

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.”

Daniel has given the full text of five Antiphon verses in Veni, Veni Emmanuel! from his Thesaurus Hymnologicus, Vol. II, p. 336 (1841). Dr. Neale gave substantially the same five Antiphons of Veni, Veni Emmanuel! in his 1851 Hymni Ecclesiæ. In addition, all seven of the original antiphons have been included in a Latin hymn "Veni O Sapientia" by Rev. Joseph Mohr, S.J., in his Cantiones Sacrae: A Collection of Hymns and Devotional Chants (Ratisbon: Frederick Pustet, 1878), pp. 82-3.

As we shall see, this Latin hymn has been translated into English by numerous individuals, both prose translations intended for prayer and metrical translations intended to be set to music.


Part II. Prose Translations of the Seven "O" Antiphons

Of the seven greater Antiphons, or the Os, one early English prose translations was made by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 25 September 1626), an English bishop and scholar, who held high positions in the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. During the latter's reign, Andrewes served successively as Bishop of Chichester, of Ely and of Winchester and oversaw the translation of the King James Version of the Bible (or Authorized Version). In 1881, Alice Nichols edited a prayer book composed of prayers composed by Bishop Andrewes, including Advent devotions of the Greater Antiphons. See: 'O Antiphons' from Andrewes, The Mantle of Prayer.

Another early translation came in 1719 in The Evening-office of the Church in Latin and English. Containing the Vespers, Or Even-song for All Sundays and Festivals of Obligation. The Second Edition, with the Addition of the Old Hymns, Etc. (Thomas Meighan, 1719), pp. 40-42. The earliest was probably in the First Edition, but we don't know when that was published. See: O Wisdom, Who Hast Proceeded.

A second 18th Century translation was in 1755 by Rev. Pacificus Baker, O.S.F., The Christian Advent, or Entertainments for that Holy Season: In Moral Reflections and Pious Thoughts and Aspirations. (London, 1755), pp. 91-129. See: O Wisdom, Who Hast Proceeded

An early 19th Century translation for Anglican use was made by Cardinal John Henry Newman for Tracts for the Times, No 75, in 1836, but this is not in common use according to Dr. Julian. See: O Eternal Wisdom Which Proceedest From The Mouth Of The Most High.

In more common use was an 1846 translation given in the St. Saviour’s (Leeds) Sacred Hymns and Anthems hymnal according to Dr. Julian. The editor noted that these anthems were to be used: From the 17th of December till Christmas Eve, instead of the Hymn after the Third Collect, one of these Anthems are to be used.” See: O Wisdom, Which Camest Out of the Mouth of the Most High. Source: Sacred Hymns and Anthems (Leeds: G. Crawshaw, 1846), Hymns 5-11, “The Advent Anthems,” pp. 10-11. There is a note on the inside cover of the copy found at Google Books: “Issued for St. Saviours, Leeds.” There was no mention of the name of the translator. A similar translation with the addition of one additional anthem was found in Joseph Oldknow, ed., Hymns and Introits For The Service of the Church. A New and Enlarged Edition [of the Edition of 1850]. (London: Masters & Son, 1870), Advent Anthems for Dec. 16-23, pp. 46-48. The additional anthem was for Dec. 21, O Sancte Sanctorum. See: O Wisdom Which Comest Out-Hymns and Introits-1870.

The St. Saviour's translation is also found in Francis H. Murray, A Hymnal for use in the English Church (London: J. And C. Mozley, 1855), pp. 23-24, and in George Cosby White, ed., Introits and Hymns With Some Anthems (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), #11-17, pp. 14-16. According to Dr. Julian, this version is also reproduced in Robert Campbell’s St. Andrew’s Hymnal, 1850; no copy is available at either Google Books or the Internet Archive at this writing [December 2015].

Editor's Note. The full title of Robert Campbell's “St. Andrew's Hymnal” is Hymns and Anthems for use in the Holy Services of the Church, within the United Diocese of St. Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane (R. Lendrum & Company, Edinburgh, & J. Masters, London, 1850). According to Dr. Julian, this collection is also known as S. Ninian's Hymns (see p. 1028 of the Dictionary of Hymnology). No copy is yet available at either Google Books or at the Internet Archive, nor have I found a copy elsewhere.

With the addition of verse 8, O Virgo Virginum, these anthems were found in the enlarged edition of Neale & Helmore's The Hymnal Noted, Part II, 1856, which gave as its source the Salisbury Antiphonary, 1519; the Latin title was Antiphonale ad usum ecclesie Sarum. It is that text that will be used in the following discussion. See: O Wisdom, Which Camest Forth out of the Mouth of the Most High. Source: John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted - Parts I and II. (London: Novello, 1856), "The Great Advent Antiphons," pp. 207-209. Another translation that cited the Salisbury Antiphony was from Rev. G. H. Palmer, ed., The Antiphons Upon Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis from the Salisbury Antiphoner (Wantage: S. Mary's Convent, 1930), pp. 9-13. See: O Wisdom Which Camest Out-Palmer.

In the Prologue to Anglia Sancta or Short Homilies for the Black Letter Days of the Church of England (1879), James Edmondson gave his translations to the Greater Antiphons in the context of seeing the Antiphons as a succession of prayers framed to understanding man's plight on Earth. The translation of O Sapienta begins "O Wisdom, Which Didst Come Forth." See: Edmondson, 'Anglia sancta' (1887).

In 1907, after giving a brief historical overview of Advent in the Church, Vernon Staley gave his translations of the Greater Advent Antiphons in Appendix A of The Liturgical Year: Advent from Staley, The Liturgical Year.

Finally, we have two contemporary examples of translations of the prose Antiphons. One is from the Roman Catholic Church, while the other is from the Orthodox Church in North America.

2007. O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High; The Great O Antiphons, Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (2007)

The translations given above are examples, but certainly not an exhaustive listing of all possible translations. That they continue to be translated and incorporated into contemporary liturgies demonstrates their vitality and permanence in church history. A list of examples that we've found can be seen immediately below.

There have been numerous translations from the Latin into English, including:

As noted above, these public domain renderings of the Great Antiphons have formed the basis for modern adaptations of the Antiphons (substituting “comes” for “comest,” for example). Likewise, modern liturgists continue to provide Antiphons in modern liturgies, whether their own fresh translations or adaptations of earlier versions, for example updated "Advent Acclamations" (Cooperative Music, Inc., 1993), and an "Advent Lamb of God" (“Today's Missal,” OCP, Portland, Oreg.).

In Advent, Abbott Prosper Louis Guéranger, O.S.B., explored numerous topics relative to that season, including the seven Great Antiphons (plus translations of four "added" antiphons). Advent is volume 1 of the 15-volume The Liturgical Year, begun circa 1841. Translation by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., circa 1867. Guéranger's Preface: The Commencement of the Great Antiphons. His commentaries on the Great Antiphons:

See: Christ by Cynewulf, and Albert S. Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf. Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900). ( ); accessed March 25, 2007.

Also see: The Prose Antiphons and The Great Advent Antiphons.


Part III. Metrical Translations of the Seven "O" Antiphons

The Prose Translations above were both recited and chanted; for example, the 11th Century Manuscript Harley 2961 appears to have music notes added to the text. Rev. John Mason Neale indicated that these antiphons became a hymn in about the 12th Century, although according to Dr. Julian, the earliest published form dates from early in the 18th Century in an Appendix of the Psaltarium Cantionum Catholicarum, Koln, 1710 and 1722 (p. 299), from the Tridentine rite, and in the Hymnodia Sacra, Munster, 1753, p. 5 (Julian, p. 1721), although not in the Hymnodia Sacra, Mainz, 1671. Another source, now lost, indicated that Veni Emmanuel also occurred in D. G. Corner's Gesangbuch, 1625; we have been unable to verify this claim.

This section deals with hymns that are composed of verses based on five or more of the Great Advent Antiphons. But it should be noted that there are a number of hymns based on individual antiphons. We find two of these in Ritson's manuscript, MS. Add. 5665,  f. 20v (c. 1460-1510), one based on O Clauis Dauid Inclita and the other based on O Radix Iesse Simplices. In both cases, the manuscript is complete with musical notation.

MS_Addit_5665-19v_o_radix_iesse.jpg (127563 bytes) MS_Addit_5665-20v_dauid.jpg (103607 bytes)

Manuscript pages of hymns based on O Radix Jesse and O Clavis David, 15th Century.

In addition, Cooke and Benjamin Webb created seven individual hymns based on the Seven Great O's which they published in their The Hymnary – A Book of Church Song (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1872). The first one of these was O Heavenly Wisdom, Hear Our Cry; links to the other six hymns are found on that page.

The earliest English metrical treatment of the Great Os that we've found is from the late 15th Century Harley 45 manuscript in the British Library (folios 168 & 169). It does not appear to be on-line, but the Middle English translation of the Latin lyrics from the Sarum Breviary were reproduced by Everard Green in Note E of his article "On the words 'O Sapientia' in the Kalendar", pp. 237-239.  See: O Sapiencia of the Ffader.

There have been quite a few translations set to a musical score in English in the last two or so centuries. The three major translations, however, were by Rev. John Mason Neale (1851), Rev. Thomas Alexander (T. A.) Lacey (1906), and Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin (1916). In contemporary hymnals and carol collections, a mixture of verses from these three can be found in individual songs.

Rev. John Mason Neale and Rev. Thomas Helmore provided a musical setting to five of the Great O Antiphons in the first edition of Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1851) with a version that began "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel," which would be modified in the first edition of The Hymnal Noted (1851), Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel-Version 2.

Sheet Music from John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds.,
 "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," #65, p. 131
The Hymnal Noted - Part II
. London: Novello, 1856.

But, as noted above, Rev. John Mason Neale wrote that in about the 12th century, an unknown author took five of these Antiphons, and wove them into a hymn in the following order:

  1. O Emmanuel;

  2. O Radix Jesse;

  3. O Oriens;

  4. O Clavis David;

  5. O Adonai.

This hymn began with the line :—

" Veni, veni, Emmanuel,"

and added to each verse the refrain:—

" Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel / Nascetur pro te, Israel."

Note that there was no refrain in the original Latin chant. Three examples of the Latin texts include:

Although Neale thought that the metrical version dated from as early as the 12th century, Dr. Julian tells us that the earliest known publication of the metrical form of Veni, veni, Emmanuel was a Latin version in an Appendix to the 18th Century Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum (Köln, 1710, from the Tridentine rite).

Another source, now lost, indicated that the Veni Emmanuel lyrics appeared in Abbot David Gregor Corner's Gross Catholisches Gesängbuch, 1625; this is being researched. The lyrics do not seem to occur in the re-worked, smaller hymnbook, Geistliche Nachtigal (1649), although some of the antiphons seem to appear in verses 7 through 11 in Hymn 52, "Von der Altvàtter verlangen nach Christo," pp. 63-65 (below).14 As noted above, the seven Great O Antiphons occurred as early as 1635 in his Promptuarium Catholicae Devotionis.

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According to Dr. Julian, Rev. Neale based his 1851 translation Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel on the Latin given by Daniel, above, although there is no reason to assume that Neale didn't use his own published version of the Latin. Indeed, in the Appendix to Accompanying Harmonies, Rev. Helmore gave two sources for "Veni, Veni Emmanuel." They were Daniel, 1844, and Neale, 1851. In either case, Neale gave this translation as “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,” and published it in the 1st edition of his Medieval Hymns, 1851, pp. 119-120, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines.

He almost immediately altered that translation for the 1st ed. of the The Hymnal Noted - Part I, #65, p. 131 (1851); see Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel - Version 2.

Neale & Helmore, "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel," The Hymnal Noted-Part II (1856), p. 131.

Latin & English Text and Musical Scores to "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" / "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel" from Thomas Helmore, ed., Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted - Part II (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1858), pp. 212-213.

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Musical Scores to "The Greater Antiphons" from Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted - Part II (1858), pp. 348-353.

Helmore-O_Sapientia-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p348.jpg (96274 bytes) Helmore-O_Adonoi-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p349.jpg (100363 bytes) Helmore-O_Radix_Jesse-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p350.jpg (99259 bytes) Helmore-O_Clavis_David-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p351.jpg (107192 bytes) Helmore-O_Oriens-O_Rex_Gntm1-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p352.jpg (104267 bytes) Helmore-O_Rex_Gntm2-O_Emmanuel-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p353.jpg (109793 bytes)

Musical Score to "O Virgo Virginum" from Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies (1858), p. 354.

Helmore-O_Virgo_Virginum-Acc_Harm_Hml_Ntd-1852-p354.jpg (104795 bytes)

Version 2 was repeated in:

The text to "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel" by Neale, often with Helmore's musical settings, would be frequently reprinted in the coming years, including by the influential Rev. Richard F. Littledale, ed., The People's Hymnal. 6th Edition. (London: J. Masters and Co., 1877), #12, p. 6.

Draw_Nigh-Peoples_H-1877-p6.jpg (123882 bytes)

1852-Blew. These Antiphons were a translation by W. J. Blew, and included in his Church Hymn and Tune Book, 1852. This volume is not available at either Google Books or the Internet Archive, or elsewhere, at the time of this writing, January, 2016.

1853. An early metrical rendering of the separate Antiphons was made by Canon William Cooke, and appeared in the Cooke and Denton Hymnal of 1853, that is, The Church Hymnal. A Book of Hymns Adapted to the Use of the Church of England and Ireland, Arranged As They Are To Be Sung In Churches (London: J. Whitaker, 1853; London: George Bell, 1855), Nos. 16-22, pp. 17-19.

The opening line of each Antiphon is:

i. “O Wisdom, who o’er earth below;”

ii. “O Ruler and Lord, draw nigh, draw nigh ;”

iii. “O Rod of Jesse’s stem, arise;”

iv. “O Key of the House of David, come;”

v. “O Morning Star, arise;”

vi. “O Thou on Whom the Gentiles wait;”

vii. “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Immanuel.”

The verses were to be paired with either Antioch or Carey's, as indicated in the text.

Texts from Cooke and Denton, eds., The Church Hymnal. A Book of Hymns Adapted to the Use of the Church of England and Ireland, Arranged As They Are To Be Sung In Churches (London: J. Whitaker, 1853; London: George Bell, 1855), Nos. 16-22, pp. 17-19.

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The complete texts can be seen at O Wisdom, Who O'er Earth Below-Cooke. William Cooke was the Honorary Canon of Chester, and William Denton was Incumbent of St. Bartholomew, Moorfields.

Canon Cooke’s account of the creation of these antiphons is:

Where it was possible, the translator and arranger [who was William Cooke], took the words of Mr. Alexander James Beresford Hope’s translation of the hymn “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” in the Hymnal Noted; retaining the prayer of the Prose Anthem for the Advent of Christ.”

Canon Cooke gave no further details concerning the alleged authorship by Mr. Hope. Dr. Julian and most other authorities give credit for the translation “Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel” in the Hymnal Noted to John Mason Neale. This conflict must be resolved. Mr. A. J. B. Hope was the editor of Hymns of the Church, literally translated, for the use of English Congregations (London, J. & F. Rivington, 1844). No copy is available on-line at this writing (January 2016). I will attempt to obtain a copy on inter-library loan in order to determine whether or not Mr. Hope had given a translation of Veni, Veni Emmanual in that hymnal.

The Cooke and Denton hymnal is sometimes referred to as Church Hymns With Tunes.

It is commonly believed that Neale, not A.J.B. Hope, had performed the translation of "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel." We will be seeking copies of hymnals, etc., edited by Mr. Hope prior to 1851.

1856.  William Mulready Terrott, ed., Anthem Book (London: Joseph Masters, 1856), Numbers 332-338, pp. 179-180.  O Wisdom Which Camest Out-Terrott

1857.  Usually, a hymnal will give either a metrical translation or a prose translation, but a Scottish hymnal in 1857 gave us both. The Metrical Antiphons were O Wisdom, Who O'er Earth Below, and the Prose Antiphons were O Wisdom, Which Camest Out-Scotland. The hymnal was Hymnal for the Scottish Church recommended by the College of Bishops. (No name or place of publisher, 1857), pp. 260-261.

1857 & 1862. Another translation, although not “Common Usage” according to Dr. John Julian, is O Come! Come Thou Emmanuel! by John David Chambers, Lauda Syon: Ancient Latin Hymns. Part I. (London: J. Masters, 1857), pp. 67-68; according to Dr. Julian, it was first published in his An Order of Household Devotion, 1854.

A different carol with the same first line is found in Richard R. Chope, Congregational Hymn and Tune Book. Enlarged Edition. (London: William Mackenzie, 1862), Hymn No. 5, O Come! Come Thou Emmanuel! The difference between the two carols is readily apparent by comparing their first stanzas:

John David Chambers ed., Lauda Syon: Ancient Latin Hymns. Part I. (London: J. Masters, 1857), pp. 67-68.

Rev. Richard Chope, ed., Congregational Hymn and Tune Book. Enlarged Edition. (London: William Mackenzie, 1862), Hymn #5.

1. O Come! Come Thou Emmanuel!
Redeem Thy captive Israel,
Who sad and exiled and forlorn,
Doth her long absent Saviour mourn;
Joy! Joy! now shall Emmanuel
Be born for thee, O Israel!

1. O come, come Thou, Emmanuel,
Redeem Thy captive Israel,
Who mourns in Lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. Amen.

According to Dr. Julian, Rev. Chope's version draws freely from both Neale's Version 1 and Version 2. His translation would be coupled with a tune arranged by H. S. Irons.

Chope, Hymn #5, Tune (Unnamed) arranged by H. S. Irons; Meter: 6 of 8s.

O_Come_Come-Chope-Cong_Hm_Bk-5.jpg (77925 bytes)

Chope's text would be matched to the 1641 tune "Darmstadt" written by Johan Schop in the 1869 edition of Hopkins' The Temple Church Hymn Book.

Sheet Music to "Darmstadt" by Johan Schop (1641) from Edward John Hopkins, ed., The Temple Church Hymn Book, being the third division of The Temple Church Choral Service Book. Second Edition. (London: Metzler & Co., ca. 1869), #176, p. 149.
Meter: 88 88 88

O_Come_Come-Chope-Temple_Choral_Book-176-p149.jpg (85143 bytes)

1859-1861. It's been written that Rev. Neale participated in one more edit of this text for the 1859 publication of Hymns, a now virtually unknown hymnal that was printed for temporary use and as a specimen of a proposed hymnal then in the course of preparation. This would become one of the most popular and enduring of the Victorian-era carols, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Text from Hymns (1859), No. 13, pp. 9-10.

Hymns-1859-Title_Page.jpg (46825 bytes) O_Come_Emmanuel-Hymns-1859-13_pp9-10.jpg (57484 bytes)

Hymns would be renamed when it was formally published two years later by editor William Henry Monk, and would become the first edition of the respected series, Hymns, Ancient and Modern With Accompanying Tunes (London: Novello and Co., 1861). Neale's text would be set to music and published as Hymn 36, with Latin verses and the note "Altered by the Compilers."

Sheet Music & Text to "Veni Emmanuel" from William Henry Monk, ed.,  Hymns, Ancient and Modern. (London: J. Alfred Novello, 1861), No. 36.

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"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" would be reprinted in new editions of Hymns, Ancient and Modern in 1867 and 1875, and would continue to e printed in this hymnal well into the 20th Century.

English & Latin Text from
Louis Coucier Biggs, ed., Hymns Ancient and Modern
(London: Novello & Co., 1867), #36, pp. 40-41.

This hymn was repeated in numerous other collections including:

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It would also be repeated in the 1903 edition of Church Hymns, according to Dr. Julian, but alterations were made in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (with the added comment, "none of which can be regarded as improvements." Julian, p. 1721.). The changes are to verse 3, lines 1 and 2, and verse 5, verse 1.

Charles H. Lloyd, ed., Church Hymns With Tunes. New Edition. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1903), Hymn 79, pp. 126-127.

Hymns, Ancient & Modern (London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1904), Hymn 47, pp. 66-67.

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O_Come-HAM-1904-47-p66-67.jpg (123792 bytes)

The tune "Veni, Veni Emmanuel" seems to have stayed fairly constant, but disputes have arisen from time to time. One example concerns Henry John Gauntlett, who felt that the tune was improved by adding a sharp on the D near the end of the second and sixth lines. He renamed the tune "Ephratah" when it was published in the Wesleyan Hymn-Book in 1876. According to Francis B. Westbrook, "an acrid exchange" of letters occurred between Gauntlett and William Henry Monk, editor of the 1861 Hymns, Ancient and Modern.15

Ephreta-Methodists-690-1877.jpg (67102 bytes)

As we have seen in O Come, O Come, Emmanuel web page, hymnal editors have frequently provided their own translations of these verses, usually without attribution (it's assumed that one of the editors of the hymnal provided the different renditions). A modern example is The New English Hymnal (1986), which contains the five verses of T.A. Lacey, but adds two additional verses, from the "Editors". I've seen hymnals that contained a version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” that contained verses from Neale, Lacey and Coffin.

The translations by Neale and Lacey (and the version "Draw Night, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel") correspond to the original verses as seen in the following table:

Original Verses:


1. O Sapientia (O Wisdom)


2. O Adonai (O Lord)


3. O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)


4. O Clavis David (O Key of David)


5. O Oriens (O Dayspring)


6. O Rex gentium (O longed-for King)


7. O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)


The Catholic Book of Worship III gives seven verses, with attribution to Neale (alt.). The New English Hymnal gives seven verses, with attribution to Lacey and the "Editors." The Hymnal 1940 gives seven verses, without attribution (although likely a composite of Neale and Lacey). Both Glory & Praise (Second Edition) and Choral Praise Comprehensive give seven verses, with attribution to Neale and The Hymnal 1940 (e.g., Lacey's verses 2 and 7, alt.). Lutheran Worship gives seven verses with attribution to "John M. Neale, alt."

Today, most hymnbooks use just five of the seven original salutations addressed to the anticipated Messiah, primarily based on the John Mason Neale translation (although frequently altered). In some hymnals, the Emmanuel verse is both the first and last verse.

1867. The Latin Veni, Veni Emmanuel would continue to inspire lyricists, including the Rev. Richard C. Singleton who penned the translation O Come, Emmanuel, O Come! in 1867, and would be included the next year in Robert Corbet Singleton and Edwin George Monk, eds. The Anglican Hymn Book (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1868), #32.

O_Come_Em-Singleton-Ang_H_Bk-1868-32.jpg (62364 bytes)

1868. O Wisdom! Spreading Mightily was the first of a set of eight Advent anthems by Lord Earn Nelson “and others,” which appeared in the Sarum Hymnal, 1868, as "The Advent Anthems." The opening line of each anthem was:

(1) "O Wisdom! Spreading Mightily"
(2) "Ruler of Israel, Lord of Might"
(3) "O Root of Jesse! Ensign Thou !"
(4) "O Israel's sceptre! David's Key"
(5) “O Day Spring and Eternal Light"
(6) “O King! Desire of Nations! come”
(7) “O Law-giver! Emmanuel! King!”

Each of the Anthems consists of four lines, plus a two-line refrain:

Draw near, O Christ, with us to dwell
In mercy save Thine Israel.

It was noted that “These Anthems may be sung separately, or as one hymn.”

Source: Lord Horatio Nelson, et. al., eds., The Sarum Hymnal (Salisbury: Brown and Co., and W. P. Aylward, 1868), No. 36, p. 19. Translation by Lord Nelson.

1870. Dr. Julian tells us that "Miss Huppus" created another version in this series with the title “Send now Thy Son unto us, Lord,” published as No. 310 in Edwin Paxton Hood’s The Children's Choir, And Little Service of Sacred Song, 1870. This version was a translation from a German carol written by Mr. Means as Nun sende Herr, uns deinem Sohn, in the Trier Gesangbuch, 1846, p. 9, in 8 stanzas of 4 lines. In the harmonized edition of 1847, it is said to be from the Munich Gesangbuch, 1586. No copy of Hood's The Children's Choir was available as of Dec. 26, 2015.

1872. Neal's Version 2 of "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel" was, with some alterations, reprinted in William Cooke and Benjamin Webb, eds., The Hymnary (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1872), No. 103, pp. 82-83, with two tunes (Gauntlett & Gounod). Cooke was the Canon of Chester and Webb was the Vicar of St. Andrew's, Wells Street. Webb is also well known for his anthem "O Sing To God," with music from Gounod. See: O Sing To God.

Version 2 was also reprinted, with some alterations, in:

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

1872. William Cooke and Benjamin Webb, editors of The Hymnary – A Book of Church Song (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1872), included a series of seven hymns, each based on one of the Seven “Great O” Antiphons, and each with its own tune. They are:

1874. Sir Arthur Sullivan created a blend  of verses from Rev. Neale and Canon Cooke in 1874 with the publication of Hymn #74, O Wisdom, Who O'er Earth Below, in his Church Hymns With Tunes (London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1874), pp. 54-55. It was composed of stanzas 2-5 and 7 from Neal's Version 1, with stanzas 1 and 4 from Canon Cooke’s translation (both above).

O_Wisdom-Sullivan-Ch_Hms-1874-p54.jpg (81225 bytes)

1876. Two years later, in 1876, Dr. Hamilton Montgomerie MacGill created his translation of "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel" when he published O Come! Immanuel, Hear Our Call, in his Songs of the Christian Creed and Life (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1876), #18, without music, and also the edition of 1879. Later in 1876 it appeared in MacGill's The Presbyterian Hymnal (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliott, 1876), #29, pp. 32-33 (no music provided or suggested; Meter: 8s); it was also found in the 1885 edition.

1903. Dr. Henry Charles Beeching, Canon of Westminster, provided the translation to O Wisdom, That with God’s Own Breath, with the musical setting "Steterburg" by Rev. Nicolaus Decius (16th century; d. 1541) in Charles H. Lloyd and Basil Harwood, eds., Church Hymns (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1903), #80, pp. 128-129.

Sheet Music to "Steterburg" by Rev. Nicolaus Decius (16th century; d. 1541)  from Church Hymns, #80, p. 128.
Meter: Six 8s.

O_Wisdom_That-Ch_Hms-80-1903.jpg (73635 bytes)

1906. Thomas Alexander Lacey (1853-1931) translated another popular version with all seven verses, five of which first appeared in The English Hymnal (1906); see: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 2. Subsequent to The English Hymnal, Lacey issued The Great Advent Antiphons: The English Translation Revised by T. A. Lacey (8 pages, 1928). This hymnal also included a prose translation of the Advent Antiphons, O Wisdom Which Camest Out of the Mouth of the Most High (The English Hymnal, #734, pp. 878-879).

1916. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel-Neale & Coffin. Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954) published translations of verses two and three in a 1916 hymnal which he co-edited with Ambrose White Vernon, Hymns of the Kingdom of God. Revised. (New York: The A.S. Barnes Company, 1916). Verse one was the translation by Rev. John Mason Neale. Veni Emmanuel, Six 8s, Ancient Plain Song, 13th Century.

Sheet Music to "Veni Emmanuel," Ancient Plain Song, 13th Century, from Coffin and Vernon, Hymns of the Kingdom of God (1916), #37.

O_Come-Hms_Kingdom_God-Coffin-37-1916.jpg (69520 bytes)

1917. A new translation by J. Thruff, set to a score written by Dr. G. Prior is found in Come, O Immanuel, Come, The Church Hymnal For the Christian Year, 1917, #78a, p. 95.

Sheet Music to Immanuel by Dr. G. Prior from Hugh Blair and Lister R. Peace, eds., Church Hymnal For The Christian Year. London: Novello & Company, Ltd., 1917, #78a, p. 95.

There have been numerous Metrical versions of these antiphons translated from the Latin into English, including:

William Cooke and Benjamin Webb, editors of The Hymnary – A Book of Church Song (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1872), included a series of seven hymns, each based on one of the Seven “Great O” Antiphons, and each with its own tune. They are:

As is the case with prose renditions, contemporary hymnologists have used Veni, Emmanuel as the basis for new hymns celebrating the name of Jesus Christ, as, for example, Steve Angrisano who used the Advent 'O' Antiphons as the basis for his hymn “Emmanuel” (copyright 2004; published by the OCP, Portland, Oreg.)


Part IV. Musical Settings for the Seven "O" Antiphons

For the hymn, a number of musical settings have been created including, but not limited to:

“Bayham Abbey” by Arthur H. Brown to Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel from The Altar Hymnal (London: Griffith, Farrar, Okeden & Welsh, 1885), p. 16.

"Benison," First Tune (German, 1707), #74a, to O Wisdom, Who O'er Earth Below from Sir Arthur Sullivan, ed., Church Hymns With Tunes (1885), pp. 54-55.

"Emmanuel" (as distinguished from Veni Immanuel) to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 in A Collection of Hymns, For the Use of the People called Methodists. With a new Supplement. Edition With Tunes (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1877), #690 (Second Tune), p. 294.

"Ephretah," by Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876) to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 in A Collection of Hymns, For the Use of the People called Methodists. With a new Supplement. Edition With Tunes (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1877), #690 (First Tune), p. 294.

"Hope" by William H. Squires, 1895, noted as also to Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel in The Hymnal (Presbyterian Church, 1896), Hymn No. 166.

"Immanuel" by J. W. Elliott, Second Tune, #74b, to O Wisdom, Who O'er Earth Below from Sir Arthur Sullivan, ed., Church Hymns With Tunes (1885), pp. 54-55.

"Immanuel" by Dr. G. Prior (1830-1906) in Come, O Immanuel, Come; Translation by J. Thruff.

"Spires" (German) to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 in Charles H. Lloyd, ed., Church Hymns With Tunes. New Edition. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1903), Hymn 79, pp. 126-127.

"St. Petersburg," by Dimitri S. Bortniansky to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 from from Andreas Bersagel, et al, eds., The Concordia Hymnal. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932, #118, p. 104.

"Steterburg" by Rev. Nicolaus Decius (16th century; d. 1541) in O Wisdom, That with God’s Own Breath, Translation by Dr. Henry Charles Beeching

"Veni Emmanuel" (Six 8s) by Charles F. Gounod (1818-1893) to Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel from the The Hymnal (Presbyterian Church, 1896), Hymn No. 166; also from the Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church. Bethlehem, PA: Provincial Synod, 1920, #106, and from George C. Martin, The Book of Common Praise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1909, #63, et al.

"Veni, O Sapientiæ" adapted and arranged by Nicola A. Montani for O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 from Nicola A. Montani, ed., The St. Gregory Hymnal And Catholic Choir Book. Philadelphia: St. Gregory Guild, 1920, #2.

"Veni, Veni Emmanuel" by Thomas Helmore to Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel from John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds., the Hymnal Noted-Part II (1856)

Note: Helmore's adaptation of the tune found by Neale was reproduced in numerous hymnals under a variety of names, including but not limited to:

  • Thomas Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies To The Hymnal Noted (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1858), pp. 212-213.

  • William Henry Monk, ed., Hymns, Ancient and Modern. (London: J. Alfred Novello, 1861), No. 36.

  • George C. Martin, The Book of Common Praise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1909, #63.

  • The English Hymnal (1906); no attribution but "Adapted by T. Helmore 'from a French Missal' "; Translation by T. A. Lacey.

  • "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," Melody from a French Missal Harmonized by H. R. Schrœder to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1 from J. H. Hopkins, ed., Great Hymns of the Church Compiled by the Late Right Reverend John Freeman Young. New York: James Pott & Company, 1887, #48, pp. 76-7.

The meter for the hymn is 88.88.88, and so any tune with that meter could be used, and there is quite a number of such tunes; the 1906 English Hymnal lists 18, the 1909 Book of Common Praise lists 24, the 1931 Songs of Praise lists 14, and the 1986 New English Hymnal lists 10.

But the most commonly heard tune heard with “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the tune “Veni, Veni Emmanuel.” The basis for this tune was a 15th Century Franciscan Plain Song Funeral Processional found by Rev. John Mason Neale in the Portuguese national library in Lisbon, arranged by Thomas Helmore in Hymnal Noted, Part II (London: 1856), and harmonized by the Rev. Samuel S. Greatheed in Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted-Part II (1858).

Origin of the Primary Tune, Veni Emmanuel.

The origins of the tune had been in some doubt for more than 100 years.

In both The Hymnal Noted, Part II (1856), p. 131, and Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted-Part II (1858), p. 213, we are told that the tune was "From a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon." And, in the article "Plainsong" in Dictionary of Musical Terms (Stainer and Barrett, 1876), p. 362, we learn that Rev. Helmore wrote that the tune came "from the MS. copied by the late J. M. Neale from a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon."

However, no such tune could be found in that library, despite repeated searches. This led to doubt in some quarters concerning whether or not Neale had actually discovered the tune where Helmore said.

We know from his biographies that Rev. Neale had visited Portugal on several occasions, including three winters on the Portuguese island of Madeira (1843-1846),16 noting that had been fortunate in finding "an excellent library at Funchal; about two thousand volumes, very well chosen by Bishop Costa Torreo...." 17  Towle, pp. 75, 83. He also noted that while in Valladolid, he visited the Museum Library containing 14,000 volumes on theology, and also the smaller University Library. Letters, p. 212.

And in 1853 he visited several cities and numerous libraries in Portugal in his search for hymns and sequences, ancient manuscripts and rare missals, to shed light on his interest in ecclesiastical history. In June of 1853, Rev. Neale visited Lisbon, home of the National Library.  This was the year before the 1854 publication of Part II of the Hymnal Noted, Towle, pp. 221, 224.

But because no trace of any such manuscript could be found in the Lisbon library, Cowan and Love, in their 1901 The Music of the Church Hymnary, had this comment about "Veni Immanuel" in Hymnal Noted, Part II, 1856:

In that book this melody is said to be ' From a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon.' These Missals have all been examined by the Rev. W. Hilton of the English College, Lisbon, but this melody is not to be found in them.

In all probability it is not a genuine mediæval melody, but has been made up of a number of plain-song phrases, most of these being found in settings of the Kyrie. The tune in its present form cannot be traced to an earlier source than the Hymnal Noted, and the likelihood is therefore that the adaptation was made for that book to suit Dr. Neale's translation.18

Other commentators have made the same allegation, including Dearmer and Jacob in their Songs of Praise Discussed (1933), according to Bernarr Rainbow in an article printed in The Musical Times (Nov. 1959).19 It should be noted that several commentators flatly reject that notion. Mother Thomas More observed:

Surely, in all fairness to Helmore, such an accusation of false presences should have been supported by weightier evidence than failure to find the alleged source!

Mr. Rainbow also quoted Rev. Neale's observations in the Handbook of Portugal (1856) about the abysmal conditions in the Bibliotheca Publica at Lisbon.

' It is difficult to estimate the number of volumes, since so many duplicates, from the libraries of suppressed convents, are now in course of distribution and exchange [emphasis added]. . . . The library is not well arranged, is very dark, and does not possess a general catalogue. Some of the most valuable books lie in heaps without any attempt at order. '

Mr. Rainbow concluded that the subsequent searches may have failed because it was only temporarily housed at Lisbon. He notes, in conclusion, "that Veni Emmanuel may still be lying, in the book from which Neale copied it, in some Iberian library, awaiting rediscovery."

It has also been suggested that Neale might have found the manuscript in another library. But this flies in the face of the three instances where Rev. Helmore identified the source as the National Library in Lisbon.

A separate issue came up when H. Jenner challenged the attribution of the tune, "From a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon." In a 1909 letter to the press, he stated that the hymn and tune came from a manuscript presented to Helmore by his father, Bishop H. L. Jenner, who had copied it in 1853 from a manuscript in the Lisbon library. When asked 40 years later what he remembered about it Bishop Jenner said he could not remember what the book was, but thought it contained both the words and the tune [Emphasis Added].

As an aside, this recollection is very odd. Can we imagine that any French Franciscan manuscript for nuns would contain the English translation "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel," together with the melody and harmony of the "Veni, Veni Emmanuel" tune? It would be one thing for Bishop Jenner to have found the tune; he was one of the musical editors of Part Two of The Hymnal Noted. However, to have found both the English words and the tune?

The assertion made by the Bishop's son as to the tune could be true. We know that Rev. Neale had traveled to Lisbon with then Rev. Jenner in May-June, 1853.20 Rev. Jenner was a member of the Ecclesiastical Society, and in November 1851 was made a member of the governing Committee of the Society.21 In addition, Rev. Jenner was one of three musical editors for Part Two of Hymnal Noted (1856).22

On the other hand, it is clear that Rev. Neale studied a manuscript that contained the tune in question,23 so it is possible that Rev. Neale alone had found the tune, as Rev. Helmore had written.

But by 1909, Bishop Jenner, Rev. Neale and Rev. Helmore had all died, and no additional evidence was produced, so no final conclusion about Rev. Jenner's association with the tune could be drawn.

In the article by Bernarr Rainbow mentioned above, he observed that it is possible that the manuscript in question was not a Missal, but might have been some other type of religious manuscript. He pointed out an example where that had been the case. And Neale himself encountered this situation in 1860 in Ariens, France, where a hymn that he discovered was in a manuscript that had been bound inside of a larger Missal.24

But as things stood, after many searches and investigations, and considerable speculation, no trace of the tune had been found.

Until 1966.

In that year, Dr. Mary Berry (Mother Thomas More, 1917-2008) was performing research into later medieval chant at Paris’ Bibliothèque Nationale. There, she discovered a French religious manuscript that contained a tune for a funeral processional for a community of Franciscan nuns. In an article for The Musical Times, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Dr. Berry wrote:

My attention had been drawn to a small fifteenth century processional in the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale. It was Franciscan in origin and probably intended for the use of nuns rather than friars. Turning the pages I discovered, on folio 89v ff, a number of troped verses for the funeral responsory Libera me in the form of a litany, beginning with the words "Bone iesu, dulcis cunctis.”

The melody of these tropes was none other than the tune of O come, O come Emmanuel. It appeared in square notation on the left-hand page, and on the opposite page there was a second part that fitted exactly, like a mirror-image, in note-against-note harmony with the hymn-tune. The book would thus have been shared by two sisters, each singing her own part as they processed.25

In a footnote, Dr. Berry noted that the manuscript was "Fonds Latin, MS 10581." Later researchers describe the manuscript as a Rituale / Processionale for a community of Franciscan nuns, the Order of St. Clair. At least three other copies of this manuscript are known to exist, all apparently copied from master copies by the Clarisse nuns, according to Dr. Peter Woetmann Christoffersen, University of Stockholm; a fourth such manuscript was offered for auction in the Spring of 2016 by the firm of “Les Enluminures”, with offices in New York, Chicago and Paris.  The manuscript that Dr. Berry found, MS Latin 10581, was studied by Dr. Peter Woetmann Christoffersen, Professor Emeritus of the University of Copenhagen, and the results were included in his Volume 2 of Songs for Funerals and Intercession (2016).26

It is clear that Rev. Neale may have seen such a manuscript. From his Letters, we know that he was in Lisbon in June, 1853. On the 17th, he wrote home about an important discovery:

"I did not tell you of my discovery at Lisbon. You know that Thomas of Celano wrote two other Sequences besides the Dies Irae, which were supposed to be lost. One of them, Fregit victor virtualis, I found in a MS. of Hours of some Franciscan convent. I have just sent it up for the Sequentiæ Ineditæ. Letters, p. 213.

In August, 1853, the sequence by Thomas of Celano, Fregit victor virtualis, was published in Neale's series of sequences, Sequentiæ Ineditæ, beginning on p. 228 of The Ecclesiologist. In a footnote on p. 229 Rev. Neale writes:

In examining the Ecclesiastical MSS. of the Bibliotheca National at Lisbon, we discovered a small 8vo MS. of Hours (circ. 1400) with French rubrics, &c., written for some Franciscan Convent in that kingdom. At the end, occurs the "Frosa de Beato Francisco," which we now, for the first time, print.27

The importance of this discovery is that the next hymn after "Frosa de Beato Francisco" in these manuscripts for French Franciscan nuns was the Funeral Responsorial Libera me beginning with the litany "Bone Jesu, dulcis cunctis”. It was a two-part hymn, melody and harmony, which was identical to the "Veni Emmanuel" that was published in Part Two of the Hymnal Noted, #65 (1854) with the words "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel."

In late 1969 or early 1971, the French Bibliothèque Nationale provided the Hymn Society of Britain and Ireland two photographs from the Fonds Latin manuscript 10581, purportedly f. 89v and 90r. The Hymn Society published the two pages in an article in their Bulletin together with text by C. E. Pocknee; see: "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," pp. 65-68. However, it was later determined that an error had occurred. Instead of sending f. 90r, the Library had accidently sent 89r, the wrong page, an error pointed out by Dr. Christoffersen in Volume 2 of Songs for Funerals and Intercession:

The tune in the Hymnal is identical to the tenor in Paris 10581, also if we look at notational details ( cf. the facsimiles in Pocknee 1970 – here the 2nd page of Paris 10581 is wrong, it shows f. 89 in stead of f. 90v ! ).

Fortunately, the correct pages were posted by Mr. Jeff Ostrowski in his blog of 16 December 2015, 'Veni Veni Emmanuel' Original Setting (Two Voices)". (Accessed 20 March 2016). Two images consisting of the two-part setting "Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis," verse 1, f. 89v & f. 90r, and f. 90v & f. 91r.

There is also an audio file of "Veni, Veni Emmanuel" with this setting, giving us an authentic experience of hearing "Veni" in two-parts from the 15th century, and the accompanying sheet music to that audio track.

The blog did not state the source. However, a close examination of 89v from The Hymn Society and 89v from Mr. Ostrowski shows that the two pages are identical.

The exhaustive researches of Dr. Christoffersen also shed light on this situation. He also studied the manuscript in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. lat. 10581, ff. 89v-101 "Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis." He determined that the source was a Rituale / Processionale from an abbey of the Order of Saint Clare in Meaux, and that the manuscript can be dated c 1490-1510. He transcribed the music into modern notation and provided the text of the eight verses. See: Songs for Funerals and Intercession, Volume 2, pp. 89-107 (Link opens in a new window at an exterior web site). The music and text from Paris 10851, verse 1, is on p. 99.

Interestingly, it's been determined that Rev. Neale examined another Franciscan Processional in the library at Amiens, France, in May, 1859. In a part of the continuing series in The Ecclesiologist, the Sequentiæ Ineditæ, No. XXII, Rev. Neale examined a manuscript and published several hymns from it. He gave us this note:

The following singular hymn is to be found in a MS. apparently of the date of 1520, bound up with a magnificent—and much earlier— missal once belonging to the great House of Corbie : now in the Public Library at Amiens. 28

This manuscript was also examined by Dr. Christoffersen, who identified it as Amiens 162. He also noted that this was a Processional created by and for the Order of Saint Clare, with virtually the same content as the Latin Fonds MS. in Paris that Neale saw in 1853. However, the the tune to "Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis" was different than that found in 1853.

In sum, Helmore described the tune as coming from a French manuscript. Neale saw a manuscript for Franciscan nuns in the National Library in Lisbon in June, 1853, that that contained a sequence that he published that fall. A strikingly similar manuscript was found in Paris — one created by and for Franciscan nuns — that contained the sequence that Neale published in August 1853; the next tune in that manuscript was the tune now identified with "Veni, Veni Emmanuel."

There is no proof that Neale saw a duplicate of the Paris manuscript, but the facts provide us with a compelling argument in favor of such a discovery. And, who knows? Perhaps someday we'll find a French Franciscan manuscript in a Portuguese library that matches he descriptions given by Neale and Helmore.

In 1983, Mother Mary Berry wrote a note that was attached to an octavio edition of “Veni, Veni” that was published by Paraclete Press. After observing that this hymn-tune was originally associated with a funeral litany of the saints in verse, Mother Berry continued,

Perhaps it is a measure of Helmore’s genius that he detected in this melody an appropriate Advent sound as well, one which conveys an unmistakable sense of solemn expectancy, not only for the Nativity of Christ, but also for his Second Coming as judge and as savior. Helmore was shrewd enough, also, to have been aware that an indubitable link exists between the theology of Advent and a procession marking the passage from death to eternal life.29


A Few Additional Thoughts

In The English Carol, Dr. Erik Routley wrote that the "Great O's" formed the foundation of a hymn written by Bishop C. W. Stubbs (1845-1923) performed in 1911 at the Truro Cathedral's Festival of Lessons and Carols. He noted:

The opening carol of the 1911 service is a hymn in seven verses, each of six tens, on the Great O's of Advent, O Wisdom, Sovereign Master of Man's Soul. But one remarkable discovery is among the carols, taken from Cynewulf's Christ (about A.D. 750), beginning in its modern version under the title The Carol of the Star:

They came three Kings who rode apace
To Bethlem town by God's good grace,
    Hail, Earendel!
    Brightest of angels.

Foudre! it was a duteous thing
Wise men to worship childe King;
    God-light be with us,
    Hail, Earendel!

"Earendel" is a fanciful name for the Star which guided the wise men.

The poem was slightly altered when it was set to music by T. Tertius Noble (1867-1950), the son-in-law of Bishop Stubbs.

The lines from Cynewulf's Christ are:

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Midgard to men sent,
and true radiance of the Sun
bright above the stars, every season
thou of thyself ever illuminest.30

See Christ by Cynewulf.

For more about the O Antiphons, including graphical representations, see Jeanne Kun's The Antiphons of Advent.


In Conclusion.

A set of antiphons created at some point before the 9th century has had a remarkable history. For at least 11 centuries — over 1,100 years — they have inspired Christians in their spiritual preparation for their celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, in one form or another, including personal prayer, group prayer, antiphons, meditations, homilies, carols, and hymns.

Why are these antiphons so compelling? Why have they spoken to God's people for centuries?

In these antiphons are the pleadings of desperate men and women. People who see themselves in the penultimate moment portrayed so vividly in the Book of Revelation. For some, the Beast is beating on the door.

Sometimes it seems like we live in a world that has gone awry. We see false values worshipped as Gods. We see evil rewarded and righteousness punished. Ever and again we see unspeakable deprivations inflicted on innocent men, women and children — targeted because of race, religion, creed, or place of birth. We see hellish Holocausts repeated, year after dark year, century after dark century. In the 20th Century alone, Mao, Stalin and Hitler accounted for tens of millions of murders.

And so we pray, we plead, to the all-wise God for the wisdom to make the right choices, that the Spirit will lead us to understanding.

We pray as the people whom you formed from clay to come and save us.

We pray to you, Dawn of the East, for enlightenment, for that light that will deliver us from the darkness of our despair.

We pray for the keys that will release us from the bondage of sin and ignorance — trapped, as we are, in darkness and the shadow of death.

We pray from this prison, O Compassionate God, for release from this pain.

We pray for the comfort that that only be given when we find loving reassurance in the Father's outstretched arms.

We pray to You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, to quickly deliver us, and tarry not, for we are despairing.

Quickly come dread Judge, great King, true Life, sure Light. O quickly come Virgin's Son, Son of God, Lord of Life, Lord of Peace, Lord of Love, Lord of Heaven, Lord of Lords!

In that bright morning, we will see a manger containing Emmanuel, God With Us, who is come to deliver us, who will teach us the laws of love of God and love of each other, who will pay the ransom demanded by the sin that besieges us — including our own sin — and who will ascend, escorting us to the fullness promised throughout the ages. Amen.


1. A Versicle is defined as a short sentence said or sung by the minister in a church service, to which the congregation gives a response. The Versicle and Response together are termed a "preces." One common example in the liturgy is this exchange, "The Salutation":
     Versicle : The Lord be with you.
     Response : And with thy spirit. 

2. Dr. Julian gives further examples of types of antiphons:

i. A Hymn or Psalm sung antiphonally—that is to say, alternately by two sides of a choir, instead of being recited by a single voice, or sung responsorially by the Priest and choir or congregation. Ignatius, third Bishop of Antioch in Syria, is said to have first introduced this mode of singing into the Church’s services, after a vision in which he heard and saw angels so praising the Blessed Trinity (Amalarius, De ecclesiasticis officiis, iv. 7). The custom was transferred thence into Western Christendom by St. Ambrose, into his own diocese of Milan, whence it spread into more general use (Rabanus Muurus, De institutione clericorum. ii. 60).

ii. A sentence of Holy Scripture, or an original composition, sung by itself without reference to any Psalm. The sentence, "I heard a voice from heaven,” &c, in the Anglican Burial Office, may be referred to as an instance of this, and similar examples occur in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Offices for the Dead. (Brevia. Goth., Jacques-Paul Migne ’s edit. p. 982.)

iii. Certain portions of Psalms, or Sentences, generally but not always taken from Scripture, and introduced into the Liturgy. The old name for the Introit was "Antiphona ad Introitum,” the last two words being frequently understood and not expressed. The “Offertorium” and “Communio” were likewise regarded as Antiphons. So were the short sentences introduced before the Gospel, as “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax. Alleluia, Alleluia “before the Gospel on Christmas Day in the Milanese and some French Uses (Edmundi Martene, De Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus Libri Tres, iv. cap. xii. § xxxii.). Various Communion Sentences or Antiphons are provided in the Gelasian Sacramentary (Muratori, Liturgia Romana Vetus, 1748, p. 698), Stowe Missal (Lit. A History of Celtic Church, p. 242), and other ancient Service Books. Martene speaks of an “Antiphona ad Eucharistiam,” commencing with the words "Venite populi,” in the Lyons Missal. In the Greek Liturgy of Constantinople the Introit consisted of three separate parts, each called an "Antiphonon,” and consisting of partly variable, partly invariable elements (Hammond, Lit. E. & W. p. 92). An exact description of these Greek Antiphona will be found in Dr. Neale’s Holy Eastern Church (Introduction i. 364).

Editor's Note: The Gelasian Sacramentary is an ancient liturgical book, written sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries, but ascribed to Pope Gelasius I (reigned 492-96). It is the oldest known Roman Missal with the feasts arranged according to the ecclesiastical year, and certainly of pre-Gregorian origin. It contains the Roman Canon in practically its present form. Source: Catholic Dictionary;

iv. A Sentence extracted or adapted from the Psalms or from some other source, and prefixed to each Psalm or group of Psalms, and repeated at the close. The rules regulating their use are very intricate, and have varied at different times and in different countries. The rules regulating their present use in the Latin Church may be found at the commencement of the Roman Breviary. There existed formerly great diocesan variety of wording, as well as of usage, of which Amalarius makes complaint at the commencement of his work, De Ordine Antiphonarii. Return

3. Of the Antiphons to the Magnificat in the Roman Breviary, prose versions into English exist in the Vesper Books and Primers of that communion; and an adaptation of these has been issued for the use of English Churchmen.

Of the Sarum Antiphons, translations of those to the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis, will be found in the Antiphoner and Grail, parts i. and ii., 1880, and with the addition of those to the Psalms in J. D. Chambers' Psalter; or, Seven Hours of Prayer, 1849; his Order of Household Devotion, 1854; and also in the Day Hours of the Church of England, and other books issued for the use of sisterhoods and other communities. Much information on the whole subject may be found in Dr. Neale’s Essays on Liturgiology, 2nd edition, 1867, and in Neale and Littledale’s Commentary on the Psalms, 1860-74, 4 vols. Source: Julian, Dict. of Hymnology. Return

3a. Everard Green, F.S.A., "On the words 'O Sapientia' in the Kalendar", from Archaelogia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Vol. 49. (London: Nichols and Sons for the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1885) pp. 219-242. Return

4. The hymn based on Mary's response to her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-55.

The Magnificat (The Canticle of the Blessed Virgin).

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God My Saviour;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
for, behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with all good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant,
mindful of his mercy —
Even as he spoke to our fathers —
to Abraham and to his posterity forever.
Glory be to the Father.

Compare: Ave Maria. Return

5. Lists of the names, appellations and titles of Jesus are widely available in Bible resources and on numerous websites. One notable resource is Alexander Cruder's Concordance (for example the Third Edition, 1769, p. 14) which is said to have 198 names. My 1957 edition of Nave's Topical Bible has two pages of names (pp. 703-4). A few of the more illuminating include The Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), The Brightness of His Glory (Hebrews 1:3), The Dayspring from on High (Luke 1:78), The Day Star (2 Peter 1:19), Everlasting Light (Isaiah 60:20), Light (John 8:12), Light to lighten the Gentiles (Luke 2:32), Light of the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6), The Light of the World (John 8:12), Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), Star (Num 24:7), Star out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2), and True Light (John 1:9). From the page "343 Names of Jesus" URL: <Accessed Nov. 6, 2016>; citing as their main source "Nave's Topical Bible Dictionary." And see: Alexander Cruder, ed., A Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testament. The Student's Edition. (London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co., 1891), "A Collection of the Names and Titles Given to Jesus Christ," p. 576. Return.

6. At least two other hymns also have the pattern of addressing Christ by one of his titles, and then requesting his assistance: O Quickly Come, Dread Judge of All and Crown Him With Many Crowns. Return

7. And in this manner is similar to the assignment of readings in the modern Festival of Nine Lessons And Carols at King's College. See generally Carol Services. Return

8. Robert Boenig, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality, p. 53. Part I of the poem "Christ" relates to the Advent, and is described as a loose translation and elaboration of the O Antiphons. However, only part II (Ascension) is now believed by some to be the work of Cynewulf; the authorship of parts I and III (The Second Coming) are less certain. Boenig contains a poetic translation (pages 217-229), with excellent explanatory notes (pages 307-311). The Charles Kennedy prose translation can be seen at Cynewulf-Christ-Kennedy (; accessed March 24, 2007). Also see the translation by Charles Huntington Whitman of Part I. Advent (; accessed March 28, 2007). For additional notes, see: Christ by Cynewulf. This poem is found in the Exeter Book of the 11th century, a gift by Bishop Leofric in 1072 to the Exeter cathedral library. Return

9. The reference here concerns the writings of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (Roman statesman and philosopher, ca. 480-524; link is to his biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent). Neither that source, nor others with similar references, have identified the location of this allusion. My best guess would be his "De institutione musica" (The Fundamentals of Music). A Latin copy of De institutione musica, liber IV available on-line at Liber IV (; accessed April 1, 2007). I have been unable to locate an on-line English translation. However, I've found references to the book Fundamentals of Music, trans. Calvin M. Bower, ed. Claude V. Palisca (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). Return

10. Following this sentence, Mr. Green gives a lengthy quotation in Latin:

Jam ergo Albinus corpore dissolvi cupiens, et cum Christo esse desiderans, exorabat votis omnibus eum, ut die, quo in linguis igneis Spiritus Sanctus super Apostolos venisse visus est, et eorum corda replevit, si fieri posset, migraret e mundo. Vespertinum siquidem pro se agens officium in loco, quo elegerat post obitum quiescere, juxta videlicet Ecclesiam Sancti Martini, Hymnum Sanctæ Mariæ evangelicum cum hac antiphona decantabat :— O Clavis David et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis et nemo claudit, claudis et nemo aperit, veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

I regret that I am unable to provide a translation. According to Professor Albert S. Cook, "This Antiphon was a favorite with Alcuin, who frequently recited it in the closing days of his life. Cf. Alcuini Vita, cap. xiv, in Migne 100. 104-5: 'Jam ergo Albinus corpore dissolvi cupiens et cum Christo esse desiderans...." Albert S. Cook, trans., The Christ; A Poem in Three Parts: The Advent, The Ascension, and The Judgment. (Boston: Ginn, 1900), Notes, p. 76; <Accessed Oct. 25, 2016>.

At the conclusion of that quotation, Prof. Cook cites Bede, Works, Vol. 8, pp. 162-3, but, unfortunately, we do not know which translation or edition. Return

11. Abbot David G. Corner (1585-1648) was a German Benedictine abbot, hymn writer and theologian best known for his influential 1631 Gross Catholisches Gesängbuch ("Great Catholic Hymnal"), first published in 1625. The edition of 1631 contained 546 hymns and 276 melodies (including 76 Latin hymns), one of the largest song books of the 16th and 17th century. A separate collection, Geistliche Nachtigal ("Holy Nightingale") was published in 1649, perhaps posthumously. This contained 363 hymns and 181 melodies (including 42 Latin hymns), and was essentially a retitled and revised version of his original collection. After his death, editions of Geistliche Nachtigal were published in 1658, 1674 and 1676. Source: David Gregor Corner,, Accessed October 29, 2016. There is a more comprehensive German biographical page at: If this page is opened in Google Chrome, an English translation can be made. A copy of the Geistliche Nachtigal  is online, but no copy of the Gross Catholisches Gesängbuch can be found as of Oct. 29, 2016. Return

12. Some service books contained eight antiphons, the Sarum Breviary had nine antiphons, and in some traditions, there were twelve. The eighth and ninth additional antiphons were “O Virgo virginum and “O Thoma Didyme.” When these two are added (or the antiphon “O Gabriel), some churches believe that the nine orders of angels are signified. For more, see Christ by Cynewulf. Return

13. Anthony a Wood, The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford. Volume 2 of 2. (Oxford, 1796), pp. 813-814.  Return.

14. A "cleaner" set of pages occurs in the hymnal Katholische Kirchenlieder (1859), Hymn 54, “Ein anders von der Altvatter verlangen nach Christo,” pp.184-186. Verses 7 through 11 appear to correspond to the following antiphons: 7. O Sapientia, 8. O Adoni, 9. O Radix Jesse, 10. O Clavis David, 11. O Oriens. A copy is available at . <Accessed Oct 30, 2016>  Return

Katholische Kirchenlieder-1859-Title_Page.jpg (31918 bytes) Ein_anders_von_der_Altvatter-54-p184.jpg (56601 bytes) Ein_anders_von_der_Altvatter-54-p185.jpg (56423 bytes) Ein_anders_von_der_Altvatter-54-p186.jpg (54684 bytes)

15. See: Francis B. Westbrook, ed., The Music of The Methodist Hymn-Book by James T. Lightwood (London: The Epworth Press, 1935, 1938, 1955). pp. 185-186.  Return

16. Andrew Gant, The Carols of Christmas-A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs (Thomas Nelson, 2015), pp. 8-9. Return

17. Eleanor A. Towle, John Mason Neale D.D. - A Memoir (London, New York & Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906, 1907), pp. 73, 85. Return 

18.  William Cowan and James Love, The Music of the Church Hymnary (Edinburgh: H. Frowde, 1901), p. 156. Return

19. Mr. Rainbow noted that Dr. Erik Routley makes the same claim in his Music of Christian Hymnody (1957). See Bernarr Rainbow, “Thomas Helmore II. The Mystery of 'Veni Emmanuel',” The Musical Times. Vol. 100, No. 1401 (Nov., 1959), pp. 621-622. Return

20. Towle, p. 221, and Mary Sackville Lawson, ed., Letters of John Mason Neale, D.D. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910), p. 206. Mary was the daughter of Rev. Neale. Return

21. The meeting of Tuesday, Nov. 18, 1851. Ecclesiologist, Vol. XII, December 1851, p. 399. Return

22. Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted-Part II, Appendix (1858), p. 355, and Hymnal Noted, Part II, Appendix (1856), p. iv. Return

23.  June, 1853, Paris, Letters, p. 213, and Ecclesiologist, Vol. XIV, p. 229. Return

24. The Ecclesiologist, Vol. XXI, No. CXXXVI (New Series No. C.), February 1860 (London: Joseph Masters, 1960), p. 14. Return

25. Mother Thomas More, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," The Musical Times. Vol. 107, No. 1483 (Sep., 1966), p. 772. Mother Thomas More was the religious name of Dr. Mary Berry. Return

26. Peter Woetmann Christoffersen, ed., Songs for Funerals and Intercession - A collection of polyphony for the confraternity of St Barbara at the Corbie Abbey. Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale Louis Aragon, MS 162 D. Two Volumes. (2016). Both volumes available on-line. Dr. Christoffersen is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Copenhagen. Electronic Editions: , ; html-version available at   Return

27. The Ecclesiologist, Vol. XIV, No. XCVII (New Series, No. LXI), August, 1853 (London: Joseph Masters, 1853), footnote, p. 229.  Return

28. The Ecclesiologist. Volume XXI, No. CXXXVI, February, 1860. (New Series No. C.) (London: Joseph Masters, 1860), pp. 13-15.  Return

29. Mother Thomas More (Dr. Mary Berry), “A Note on O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” reproduced in Sacred Music, Volume 135, Number 4 (Winter 2008), p. 35. Return

30. It was this stanza from Cynewulf that provided a strong influence on the noted philologist J. R. R. Tolkien, well-known for his works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The translation of the first two lines of this stanza by Gollancz is:

Hail, heavenly beam, brightest of angels thou,
sent unto men upon this middle-earth ! [Emphasis added]

This was the first of nine references to "middle-earth" in this translation. "Earendel" became the name of one of Tolkien's characters, "Eärendil the Mariner," a hero of the First Age whose star figures in The Hobbit. Return


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