The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

In Excelsis Gloria

When Christ Was Born of Mary Free

For Christmas Eve, For Christmas

Words: English Traditional, 15th Century

Version 4
There are numerous variations of this carol.
See Notes under When Christ Was Born of Mary Free (Bramley and Stainer, with sheet music)

Source: Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861)

When Christ was born of Mary free,
In Bethlehem in that fair citie,
Angels sang there with mirth and glee,
    In Excelsis Gloria !

Herdsmen beheld these angels bright,
To them appearing with great light,
Who said, " God's Son is born this night,"
    In Excelsis Gloria !

This King is come to save mankind,
As in Scripture truths we find,
Therefore this song have we in mind,
    In Excelsis Gloria !

Then, dear Lord, for Thy great Grace,
Grant us the bliss to see Thy face,
That we may sing to Thy solace,
    In Excelsis Gloria !

Sheet Music from Edgar Pettman, ed., Modern Christmas Carols (London: Weekes & Co., 1892), #3:

03-When_Christ_Was_Born_Of_Mary_Free.jpg (89365 bytes)

Pettman notes: "No. III.—The florid refrain of this carol is based upon an old English melody; it should be sung a little faster than the preceding bars, and in strict time to the end."

Sylvester's Note:

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 interlarded. They are composite or macaronic in their language; and the refrain of this 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 altar.

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

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