Text: Theodulph of Orléans (d. 821)
Music: Melchior Teschner (1584-1635)
Tune name: ST. THEODULPH
As Bishop of Orléans during the reign of Charlemagne, Theodulph was a significant figure in guiding the theological reforms during the Carolingian Renaissance of the late eighth and early ninth centuries. Scholars believe he was also the author of the Libri Carolini, the “Books of Charles,” commissioned by the emperor to clarify understanding of the use of sacred images. One scholar judges that the Libri Carolini contain “much the fullest statement of the Western attitude to representational art that has been left to us by the Middle Ages.”
The text of this Palm Sunday hymn was written around 820 when Theodulph was imprisoned in Angers, France, for allegedly conspiring against King Louis the Pious. Legend has it that Theodulph sang the hymn from his dungeon window as the king and his entourage were passing by on their way to the cathedral. The story further claims that Louis immediately freed the bishop.
Celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (cf. St. Matthew 21:1-11), the hymn originally included 39 stanzas, which — given the long processional rites that many churches observed on Palm Sunday, processing not just up the nave but through the streets of cities and towns — made it fit for liturgical use. Our Hymnal includes six of the stanzas as translated by John Mason Neale in 1851. A seventh stanza was originally included in Neale’s setting:
Receive instead of palm-boughs,
Our victory o’er the foe,
That in the conqueror’s triumph
This strain may over-flow.
Neale also appended a note to the hymn: “Another verse was usually sung, till the 17th century, at the pious quaintness of which we can scarcely avoid a smile”:
Be thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass;
That to God’s Holy City
Together we may pass.
Neale’s translations form a large part of our Hymnal, which includes 34 texts he translated from ancient Latin and Greek hymns. Here is the text to the present hymn:
1. All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King;
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.
2. Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David’s royal Son,
who in the Lord’s name comest,
the King and Blessed One! [Refrain]
3. The company of angels
are praising thee on high,
and mortal men, and all things
created, make reply. [Refrain]
4. The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayers and anthems
before thee we present. [Refrain]
5. To thee before thy passion
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted,
our melody we raise. [Refrain]
6. Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King. [Refrain]
ST. THEODULPH is named in honor of the poet/bishop who wrote this hymn’s text. The tune — by Lutheran cantor and pastor Melchior Teschner — was first published in 1615. It was written for use with a hymn newly written in response to the deadly plague that struck the citizens of the town of Fraustadt. The third stanza of that hymn was employed by Johann Sebastian Bach in his St. John Passion. It is heard as a chorale as the narrative describes the crucifixion of Jesus.
Within my heart’s foundation
Thy name and cross alone
Shine forth each day and hour,
For which I can rejoice.
Appear to me the vision,
For strength in my distress,
How thou, Lord Christ, so gently
Didst give thy blood till death!
Here is that chorale sung by the Monteverdi Choir, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
Bach also wrote two chorale preludes based on this tune: Valet will ich dir geben (BWV 735) and Valet will ich dir geben (BWV 736). Below are both of these, played by Bine Katrine Bryndorf.
Here is the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing this stirring Palm Sunday hymn (despite the fact that the caption indicates that it was sung at Easter).