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Origin of 'Angels We Have Heard On High

Updated on December 2, 2014

Origin of 'Angels We Have Heard On High'

Angels we have heard on high- we sing this song at Christmas time, but what is the origin of this song? The original writer of this beautiful carol is unknown and one account has it written as early as 130 AD.

Back in 130 AD "Glory to God in the highest" is a phrase, that was an important part in the Church masses at the time. Pope Telesphorous issued a decree which stated that on the day of our Lord's birth all church's everywhere should have special Christmas Eve services. Then after certain scripture readings and prayers being said the Congregation should also sing the words 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' which is latin for 'Glory to God in the Highest'. It was called 'The Angel's Hymn' and it became the first known Christmas carol in the Catholic Church.

Angel connection- The word angel means messenger, so it seems fitting that we know from the Bible that angels' delivered the story of Jesus birth. Read (Luke 2:13-14) "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will to men'". 'Angels we have heard on high' tells the story about Jesus being born on Christmas day.

The four verses of the carol embrace the angels' visit to the shepherds. The angels' words from the Bible (Luke 2:10- 12) “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger'

We know that French legend tells us that shepherds on Christmas Eve had a tradition of shouting out to each other from one hillside to another as they would watch their flocks. They would shout out “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. This was how they would spread their cheerful Christmas message to one another. That phase as we know is in the chorus of 'Angels we have Heard oh High'

The words of the song are based on a traditional French carol known as Les Anges dons nos campagnes which translated means -'Angels in our countryside' or as it is known now as 'Angels we have heard on high'. The carol has always been printed with no known lyricist or composer.

The carol was known in England around 1816.Around this time a man named James Montgomery wrote a carol 'Angels from the Realms of Glory'. He based it on the tune of "Les anges dans nos campagnes." This was sung to the French tune until around 1967 when Henry Tomas Smart wrote a new tune for it.

In 1862 the carol was translated into English by Bishop James Chadwick who was a Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, which is northeast England. The carol became popular quickly. R.R. Chope said the song was 'cornish'. The music was titled 'Gloria' and was arranged by Edwin S. Barnes.

The version we sing today was first published in 1916 in an American Carol Collection which was titled Carols Old and Carols New. "Angels we have Heard on High' has been recorded by numerous singers:

  • Amy Grant
  • Randy Travis
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Bing Crosby

Angels We Have Heard On High

Angels we have on heard high
Sweetly singing ore 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 strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn 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

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

Merry Christmas- May the birth of our Lord bring you much peace and happiness

beautiful card

Angels we have heard on high


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