The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers

For The Holy Innocents
See: The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents
The Feast day of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, is December 28

Version 1
Compare: All Hail Ye Infant Martyr Flowers (Neale and Helmore)

Sweet Flowerets of the Martyr Band (Henry W. Baker) - Version 1
Sweet Flow'rets Of The Martyr Band (Henry W. Baker) - Version 2

Words: Salvete, Flores Martyrum, Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius"), Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405)
Translator: Athelstan Riley, 1906

Music: Sarratt, C. G. E. Ryley
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Meter: LM

Source: The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #34, p. 58.

1. All hail, ye little martyr flowers,
Sweet rosebuds cut in dawning hours!
When Herod sought the Christ to find
Ye fell as bloom before the wind.

2. First victims of the martyr bands,
With crowns and palms in tender hands,
Around the very altar, gay
And innocent, ye seem to play.

3. What profited this great offense?
What use was Herod's violence?
A Babe survives that dreadful day,
And Christ is safely borne away.

4. All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesus, virgin-born, to thee;
All glory, as is ever meet
Ao Father and to Paraclete.

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Sarratt - Salvete, Flores Martyrum

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This is one of four Epiphany hymns derived from Prudentius' (384-413) Hymnus Epiphaniae  (Hymn For The Epiphany), which is 52 stanzas long. Two of these hymns, Audit tyrannus anxius (With Terror Doth The Tyrant Hear) and Salvete, Flores Martyrum, were assigned for the feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec 28) for Matins and Laudes respectively.

The following is the R. Martin Pope translation of the stanzas and its Latin equivalent:

Ye flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Of rising morn pure blossoms frail!
By Jesu's foe were ye downcast,
Like budding roses by the blast.

Lambs of the flock too early slain,
Ye first fruits of Christ's bitter pain!
Close to His very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye now do play.
Salvete flores martyrum,
quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit,
ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

Vos prima Christi victima,
grex inmolatorum tener,
aram ante ipsam simplices
palma et coronis luditis.

Also found in The Book of Common Praise, Being The Hymn Book Of The Anglican Church of Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, No Date, pp. 247-8. It has the first two lines:

All hail, ye little Martyr flowers,
Cut off in life's first dawning hours!

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are more than 25 known translations; the English name was given by Edward Caswall, which included:

Flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Smitten by the tyrant foe
On life's threshold -- as the gale
Strews the roses ere they blow.

See: Flowers Of Martyrdom, All Hail!

The four verses from Hymn For The Epiphany - Prudentius, translated by R. Martin Pope relating to the Holy Innocents:

Ye flowers of martyrdom, all hail! 125
Of rising morn pure blossoms frail!
By Jesu's foe were ye downcast,
Like budding roses by the blast.

Lambs of the flock too early slain,
Ye first fruits of Christ's bitter pain! 130
Close to His very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye now do play.

Of what avail is deed so vile?
Doth Herod gain by murderous guile?
Of all to death so foully done 135
Escapes triumphant Christ alone.

Amidst that tide of infant gore
Alone He wins the sheltering shore:
The virgin's Child survives the stroke,
When every mother's heart was broke. 140

According to R. Martin Pope, the Feast of Holy Innocents at Lauds, beginning Salvete flores martyrum, ll. 125-132. The additional two verses quoted do not, per se, relate to the poem cited, according to Pope. However, the third verse of this hymn track closely with the third verse noted in the Pope translation (lines 133-136), the translation by Riley, and the translation by Baker (“Sweet flowerets of the martyr band “) of these passages (but not the Neale-Helmore translation).

Although the fourth verse immediately above is not found either in Riley, Baker or Neale-Helmore, a casual reading seems to include it in the fuller message from Prudentius.

According to Pope, all four Epiphany poems end with a final doxology (which was not written by Prudentius):

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui natus es de Virgine,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

The Riley translation:

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesus, virgin-born, to thee;
all glory, as is ever meet
to Father and to Paraclete.

Baker gives the following:

O Lord, the Virgin-born, to Thee
Eternal praise and glory be,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.

Neale gives:

For their redemption glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee,
With Father, and with Holy Ghost,
For ever from the Martyr-host.

Hymnus Epiphaniae is from the longer Cathemerinon (The Hymns of Prudentius, translated by R. Martin Pope, 1905). The feast day of the Holy Innocents is December 28; see: The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents.

Notes From Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., Hymns from the Breviary and Missal (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1922), pp. 108-109.

Author: Prudentius (348-413). Meter: Iambic dimeter. Translation [of All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers] by Athelstan Riley. There are about twenty five translations. Liturgical Use: Hymn for Lauds on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

This hymn is a cento from the twelfth and last poem in the Cathemerinon of Prudentius, and in its full form it contains 208 lines. First line of complete hymn: Quicumque Christum quaeritis. Four beautiful centos from this hymn were included in the Breviary by Pius V (1568). One of these centos begins with the first line of the complete hymn. The following are the four centos, their composition, and their liturgical use:

1. Quicúmque Christum quæritis (1-4; 37-44; 85-88). Transfiguration.

2. O sola magnarum urbium (77-80; 5-8; 61-64; 69-72). Epiphany.

3. Audit tyrannus anxius (93-100; 133-136). Holy Innocents.

4. Salvete, Flores Martyrum (125-132). Holy Innocents.

There is an article in the Cath. Encyl., treating of all four hymns, under the general heading: Quicumque Christum quceritis.

1. "Hail, flowers of the martyrs, whom on the very threshold of life, the persecutor of Christ snatched away even as the whirlwind, the budding roses." Lucis, lit., light; fig., life; or in a mystical sense, Christ.

2. "As the first sacrifice for Christ, a tender flock of victims, with sweet simplicity, ye play with your palms and crowns at the very altar side." Aram sub ipsam: The Original Text has ante for sub. Vidi subtus altare animas interfectorum propter verbum Dei (Apoc. 6, 9). This stanza has been greatly admired. It presents a picture of great beauty. The hymn Flowers Of Martyrdom, All Hail! is Father Caswall's translation of this hymn, of which Monsignor Henry says: "Not to speak of the beauty and fidelity of the rendering, the trochaic rhythm vividly conveys the sense of the suddenness of the onslaught, the ruthlessness and swiftness of the destruction." (Cath. Encycl. Vol. XII, p. 607).

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