Angels we have Heard on High

The English translation of this carol was originally by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. It was first published, alongside the English tune, in The Holy Family Hymns in 1860. It became popular in the West Country, with R.R. Chope describing it as “Cornish” and the carol appearing in Pickard-Cambridge”s Collection of Dorset Carols.

Although some early descriptions such as by J.P. Migne in 1867 stated that the original French carol was an “old noel from Lorraine”, many contend that it in fact dates from either the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. The first printed appearance was in Abbe Lambillottee”s Choix de cantigues sur des airs nouveaux in 1842, and interviews with elderly French-Canadian singers for a 1907 book by Ernest Myrand found that non remember the carol from their childhood, but remember it becoming popular only in the 1840s.


Angels we have heard on high,
Singing sweetly o”er the plains,
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds why this jubilee
Why your joyous straings prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the new-born King!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

See him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Alternative English lyrics

Angels, we have heard your voices,
Sweetly singing o”er the plains;
Mount, and crag and hill replying,
Echo still your joyous strains:

Shepherds, why this jubilation?
Why this ecstasy of song?
Tell us what may be the tidings
That inspired the heavenly throng?

Come and see in Bethlem”s city
Him whose birth the angels sing;
And, on bended knee, adore him,
Christ the Lord, the new-born King!

See, within a manger lying,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth;
Aid us, Mary, aid us, Joseph,
To acclaim our Saviour”s birth.

Original French lyrics

Les Anges dans nos campagnes,
Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux ;
Et l’écho de nos montagnes
Redit ce chant mélodieux :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Bergers, pour qui cette fête ?
Quel est l’objet de tous ces chants ?
Quel vainqueur ? quelle conquête ?
Mérite ces cris triomphants :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Ils annoncent la naissance
Du Libérateur d’Israël ;
Et pleins de reconnaissance,
Chantent, en ce jour solennel :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Cherchons tous l’heureux village
Qui l’a vu naître sous ses toits ;
Offrons-lui le tendre hommage,
Et de nos cœurs et de nos voix :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Dans l”humilité profonde
Où vous paraissez à nos yeux ;
Pour vous louer, roi du monde,
Nous redirons ce chant joyeux :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Toujours remplis du mystère
Qu”opère aujourd”hui votre amour,
Notre devoir sur la terre
Sera de chanter, chaque jour :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Déjà les bienheureux Anges,
Les Chérubins, les Séraphins ;
Occupés de vos louanges,
Ont appris à dire aux humains :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

Dociles à leur exemple,
Seigneur, nous viendrons désormais
Au milieu de votre temple,
Chanter avec eux vos bienfaits.
Gloria in excelsis Deo (bis)

O Come All Ye Faithful

One of the most popular Christmas hymns in the English language, O Come All Ye Faithful, has it roots in another emensely popular Christmas carol, Adeste Fideles, to the tune of which it provides English lyrics. Often featured as the final hymn in Christmas servies on Christmas Eve. The popularity of the carol worldwide is such that it also goes by the name “The International Carol” and the history of the carol lives up to its global reach today.

The origins of Adeste Fideles were disputed up until 1947 when it was finally established that both the music and the latin words of four verses were composed by John Francis Wade (1711 – 1786), an Englishman who had previously been resident in Lancashire who was living in a Roman Catholic college in Douai, Northern France. One of the main reasons for a dispute over authorship was that Wade was a music copyist who would reproduce sheet music before this could be done by printing press.

Prior to being finally attributed to Wade other candidates for the potential authorship had included the Italian Saint Bonaventura, English organist John Redding as well as various others of among others German and Portuguese nationality. The Portuguese attribution is perhaps the most understandable due to their role in popularising the song. Some still maintain to this day that the music comes from a Portuguese source.

Wade”s music sounds very similar to Charles Simon Favart”s Le Comte d”Acajou, and it”s not clear if Wade was borrowing from this or parodying it, or even if Favart”s borrowed from Wade. Perhaps both had inspiration for another composer, both Handel and Thomas Arne (who Wade knew) have been suggested. The timing of the music shifts between duple and triple time.

The first appearance of the Adeste Fideles in London is probably from its 1782 publishing, although it had appeared 22 years earlier in France without the accompanying music. The Portuguese connection comes in when it was played at their London embassy in 1795. Translations into English began in 1789 with a version which begins “Come, faithful all, rejoice and sing”.

The translation of Adeste Fideles into what is now known as O Come All Ye Faithful was the product of a London Anglican, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880). His first attempt at a translation began “Ye Faithful, approach ye”. This was first song at Margaret Chapel, Marylebone, London in 1841 although it wasn”t until he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1845 after becoming unpopular in the Anglican church for his style of preaching, that a version of his lyrics we now know which were first published in 1852 in Murray”s hymnal.

Often Oakesley”s three verses are used in addition to verses by William Brooke (1848-1917) including one more by himself, most commonly making up a seven verse song. Brooke was another convert, but this time from Baptism to the Church of England. He translated Adeste Fideles from the original Latin to English. Verses by Oakesley make up the first, second, sixth and seventh verses of this expanded version. William Brooke”s expanded addition appeared in the Altar Hymnal of 1884. Despite the addition of verses by Brooke the English carol, even in it”s full seven verses, is one less than Adeste Fideles.

Oakeley”s 1852 translation is by far the most popular version of the carol today, but there”s over fifty competing translations available (there were 38 by 1892 when John Julian published the Dictionary of Hymnology).

Wade”s music for Adeste Fideles was widely used for various psalms and songs in both Catholic and Protestant congregations in English from it”s first published appearance in the country in the 1782 An Essay on Church Plain Chant. For instance it”s used in the Psalm 104 and for the hymn Begone, Unbelief by John Newton. The music was called the Portuguese hymn despite the fact the author is now known to be Wade. This was perhaps due to the Duke of Leeds hearing it played at a Portuguese Chapel in 1795 popularising the name Portuguese Hymn by commissioning Thomas Greatorex to produce a version for his Concerts of Antient Music. Still some believe that the hymn is originally Portuguese, with it”s composer being Marcos Portugal (1762-1830).

Alternative First Lines used in other versions:

  • Approach, all ye faithful
  • Assemble, ye faithful
  • Come, faithful all, rejoice and sing
  • Draw nigh, all ye faithful
  • Hither, ye faithful, haste with songs of triumph
  • Ye faithful, approach ye


O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God”s holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.