The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

When Christ Was Born of Mary Free

Christo paremus canticam, Excelsis Gloria.

For Christmas Eve, For Christmas

Words: Traditional carol from the Harleian Manuscript, Fifteenth Century
(Harl. MS 5396, fol 4, ro. temp. Hen. VI.)

Music: "When Christ Was Born," Arthur H. Brown
Meter: Irr.

Source: Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, First Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1871), Carol #19

1. When Christ was born of Mary free1
In Bethlehem that fair city.
Angels sang with mirth and glee,
In excelsis Gloria.

Chorus
"In excelsis gloria!
In excelsis gloria!
In excelsis gloria!
in excelsis gloria!1a

2. Herdsmen beheld these angels bright
To them appeared2 with great light,
Who said, "God's son is born this night."
In excelsis Gloria. Chorus

3. The King is come to save mankind
As in the scripture we will find;2a
And this song we have in mind,2b
In excelsis Gloria. Chorus

4. Then, dear Lord, for thy great grace,
Grant us in2c bliss to see Thy Face,
That2d we may sing to thy Solace.
In excelsis Gloria. Chorus3

Notes:

1. Or: When Christ was born of pure Marie. Return

1a. Alt. Chorus
In excelsis gloria!
In excelsis gloria!
In excelsis gloria!
Angels sang with mirth and glee,
in excelsis gloria!

Or:
In excelsis gloria!
In excelsis gloria! Return

2. Or: appearing

 2a. Or: In Scripture truths we find; or: As in Scripture we do find, Return

2b. Or:
In Scripture promised, as we find.
Therefore this song have we in mind. Return

2c. Or: Grant us the bliss to see Thy face, Return

2d. Or: where Return

3. Alternate Verses:
4. Grant us, O Lord, for Thy great grace,
In heaven in bliss to see thy face,
Where we may sing to Thy solace:
In excelsis Gloria.

Or:

4. Lord, out of Thy Great grace
Let us, in bliss, look on thy face,
There we may sing to thy solace —
In excelsis Gloria.

Return

Sheet Music from Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1871)
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When_Christ_Was_Born_19a.gif (464015 bytes) When_Christ_Was_Born_19b.gif (398236 bytes)

Sheet Music from Arthur H. Brown, ed., In Excelsis Gloria-Carols for Christmastide (London: Thomas Bosworth & Co., 1885), Carol #1, pp. 2-3.

When Christ Was Born of Mary Free-pp2-3.jpg (109248 bytes)

Sheet Music "When Christ Was Born Of Pure Marie" by H. S. Irons from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #96
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Sheet Music "When Christ Was Born Of Mary Free" by Arthur H. Brown from  Hutchins, Carol #610
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Sheet Music by Martin Shaw from Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, Second Series (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1919), Carol # 43.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Note that an introduction is added, and the chorus is omitted, in this version.

Sheet Music: Richard R. Terry, Twelve Christmas Carols (London: J. Curwen & Sons, Ltd., 1912), p. 20.

Sheet Music by J. F. Ohl from The Parish School Hymnal. Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the United Lutheran Church in America, 1926, #37.

Sheet Music from Rev. Edgar Pettman, ed., The Westminster Carol Book (London: Houghton & Co., 1899)., No. 25, p. 33

Pettman_25-When_Christ_Was_Born_Of_Mary_Free.jpg (461286 bytes)


Versions on this web site:

Joshua Sylvester, Christmas Carols - Ancient and Modern (circa 1861, reprinted A. Wessels Company, New York, 1901):

Bishop Taylor was of the opinion that the "Gloria in Excelsis," the hymn sung by the angels to the Shepherds at our Lord's Nativity, was the earliest Christmas carol. It is preserved in an old MS. among the Harleian collection in the British Museum, supposed to have been written about the year 1500. In English carols of this antiquity Latin words and even whole lines are freely interlaced. They are composite or macaronic in their language; and the refrain of their curious piece, "In Excelsis Gloria" -- Glory in the highest -- is retained in its original form, doubtless from its analogy to the "gloria" which the priests were accustomed to intone at the alter.

The "Gloria In Excelsis" is sung in Roman Catholic chapels on the Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and at midnight on Christmas Even, and then again at eleven o'clock on Christmas Morning.

Note: Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvestre" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868):

This Carol is of the time of Henry VI. This carol is preserved in a manuscript written early in the sixteenth century, and now in the British Museum.

Note that the Husk version omits the burden.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pp. 46-7 under the title Christo paremus canticam, excelsis gloria. She gives the date as "about 1500." Her version also omits the burden.

Bullen notes that this carol is from the Harleian MS. 5396 (date circ. 1500). Printed in Sandys' Christmas Carols, and other collections.

Sandys' notes From the ... (Harl. MS 5396. (temp. Hen. VI.). The commencement of some of the lines is not legible.

Editor's Note:

The phrase "Christo Paramus Canticam Excelsis Gloria" has been translated as "Let us raise a song unto Christ, all glory in the highest." Translation by Arthur Gaskin, A Book of Pictured Carols (London: George Allen, 1863), p. 65.

The carol ‘When Cryst was born of Mary fre’ is said to be found beginning on folio 273b according to Augustus Hughes-Hughes, Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum, Vol. 1 (London: British Museum, 1908), p. 138, who added at the carol ‘Be glad, lordynges, be ye more and lesse’ is found beginning on folio 280b. These folios have been dated to circa 1456.

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Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old

When_Christ_Was_Born

"When Christ Was Born Of Pure Marie" by H. S. Irons from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, #96

When_Christ_Was_Born

"When Christ Was Born Of Mary Free" by Arthur H. Brown from Hutchins, Carol #610

When_Christ_Was_Born

Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, Second Series, Carol # 43.

In_Excelsis_Gloria

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