The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Earth Has Many A Noble City

Words: O sola magnarum urbium, Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius"), Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405)
Translated by Edward Caswall; alt. by the compilers, 1849, alt. 1861.

Music: "Stuttgart," from Christian Friedrich Witt's Psalmodia Sacra, 1715;
adapted by Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Source: Hymns Ancient and Modern. London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd., 1889, #76, p. 75.

 1. Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

2. Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

3. Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

4. Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth,
Myrrh His sepulcher foreshows.

5. Jesu,1 whom the Gentiles worshipped
At Thy glad Epiphany,
Unto Thee, with God the Father
And the Spirit, glory be.


1. Or: Jesus Return

Also found in The Book of Common Praise (Oxford: University Press, 19090, #92, p. 111.

Editor's Note:

I made two slight word changes to the first two lines to make the music fit (see below). They originally read:

Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;

I changed them to read:

Earth has many noble cities;
Bethlehem, thou dost excel;

Note that both this version, Bethlehem of Noblest Cities and Bethlehem, Not The Least Of Cities all claim to be based on the translation by Edward Caswall, but have fairly significant differences in their wordings.


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Earth Has Many A Noble City - Stuttgart

Bethlehem Of Noblest Cities - Stuttgart

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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. The hymn O sola magnarum urbium was assigned by Pope Pius V for the Epiphany at Lauds in the Roman Breviary.

The following is the R. Martin Pope translation of the Latin poem from Prudentius:

O Bethlehem! no longer thou
The least of cities: all shall vow
That thou art greatest on the earth:
For thou man's King didst bring to birth.

What means this star, whose piercing rays
Outshine the sun's resplendent blaze?
'Tis token sure that God is come
In mortal flesh to make His home.

Whereat the travellers outpour
Of Eastern gifts their treasure-store,
Myrrh and sweet-smelling frankincense,
Gold meet for regal opulence.

Behold herein the triple sign
Of Thy pure being, King divine:
Seeing the Father willed in Thee
To plant a threefold majesty.

The gift of gold thee King proclaims:
Thee God the fragrant incense names:
The myrrh declares that Death shall thrust
Within the tomb Thy body's dust.

O sola magnarum urbium
maior Bethlem, cui contigit
ducem salutis caelitus
incorporatum gignere.

Haec stella, quae solis rotam
vincit decore ac lumine,
venisse terris nuntiat
cum carne terrestri Deum.

Videre quod postquam Magi,
eoa promunt munera,
stratique votis offerunt
tus, myrrham, et aurum regium.

Agnosce clara insignia
virtutis ac regni tui,
puer o, cui trinam Pater
praedestinavit indolem.

Regem Deumque adnuntiant
thesaurus et fragrans odor
turis Sabaei, ac myrrheus
pulvis sepulcrum praedocet.

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348 -ca. 413) wrote a significant body of Latin verse, including  Cathemerinon, Hymns for the Christian's Day (The Hymns of Prudentius, translated by R. Martin Pope and R. F. Davis, 1905; their source was Dressel, Lipsiae, 1860).

The 12th and last poem in this work is called Hymnus Epiphaniae that begins Quicumque Christum quaeritis. One portion of this poem is “O sola magnarum urbium,” which begins with line 77. The Roman Breviary text is in Cardinal Newman's Hymni Ecclesiae, 1838 and 1865 (Londini: Alexandrum Macmillan, p. 253). According to John Julian (p. 946), the many translations include:

Other translations not in Common Use according to Julian are:

Other translations not on this list include O Chief Of Cities, Bethlehem and Earth Hath Many A Mighty City. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 stated that there were 17 translations (but did not list them, unfortunately).

In their notes, Pope and Dave write:

This symbolism of the gifts of the Magi is also found in Juvencus
(I. 250): "Frankincense, gold and myrrh they bring as gifts to a
King, a Man and a God," and is again alluded to by Prudentius in
_Apoth._ 631 _et seq._ The idea is expressed in the hymn of Jacopone
da Todi, beginning _Verbum caro factum est_ (Mone, _Hymni Latini_,
Vol. 2):

    "Gold to the kingly,
    Incense to the priestly,
    Myrrh to the mortal:"

and it has passed into the Office for Epiphany in the Roman Breviary:
"There are three precious gifts which the Magi offered to their Lord
that day, and they contain in themselves sacred mysteries: in the
gold, that the power of a king may be displayed: in the frankincense,
consider the great high priest: in the myrrh, the burial of the Lord"
_et passim_.

The full Latin prayer, from Cardinal John Henry Newman's Hymni Ecclesiae is:

O sola magnarum urbium
Major Bethlem, cui contigit
Ducem salutis coelitus
Incorporatum gignere.

Quem stella, quae solis rotam
Vincit decore ac lumine,
Venisse terris nuntiat
Cum carne terrestri Deum.

Videre postquam illum Magi,
Eoa promunt munera,
Stratique votis offerunt
Thus, myrrham, et aurum regium.

Regem Deumque adnuntiant
thesaurus et fragrans odor
turis Sabaei, ac myrrheus
pulvis sepulcrum praedocet.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui apparuisti gentibus,
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula.

The last verse, beginning "Jesu tibi sit gloria," is from the Marian doxology and was not composed by Prudentius. From Google Books: Hymni Ecclesiae and The Hymns of Prudentius.

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