Welcome to The Hymn of the Week. This week’s hymn, Be Thou My Vision, comes from the emerald isle of Ireland, with origins perhaps as early as the 5th century. Its beautiful poetry is paired with a tune from the rich tradition of Irish folksong, and it has enjoyed widespread popularity since its first appearance in hymnals early in the 20th century.
Click Below for Be Thou My Vision Lyrics
Be Thou My Vision: Hymn of the Week Radio Show Episode
Reading of Be Thou My Vision Lyrics
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
And now, let us hear this beautiful hymn, performed by the Choir of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh
Increase of Christian Faith in Ireland
The three-hundred years following the missionary visits of St. Patrick in the early 5th century were a time of great increase of the Christian faith in Ireland. The Irish eagerly embraced the good news of the gospel of Christ; many churches were built, and Christian faith and worship soon replaced the pagan practices and cultural leadership of the Druid priests. During this period, Irish Christians not only shared their faith on their island homeland but also began to send missionaries throughout the world.
The old Irish poem, Rop tu ma wahleur (phonetic pronunciation) Be Thou My Vision comes from this time of spiritual awakening. Although some scholars attribute the poem to Dallan Forgail, of the sixth century or even to St. Patrick himself, the true author is unknown. The poem follows the form of the Celtic “lorica”—a prayer for spiritual and physical protection. It is known to us today as Be Thou My Vision because of interest in Gaelic culture and the efforts of two British scholars born in the late 19th century: translated by Mary E. Byrne, it was published in 1905 in Dublin in the Journal of the School of Irish Learning; Eleanor H. Hull, founder of the Irish Literary Society in London, arranged the translated text into verses published in 1912, in Poem-book of the Gael.
God as Wisdom, Father, Treasure, Heart, Ruler and Inheritance
The translated verses portray a deep devotion and depth of faith with metaphoric references to God as Vision, Wisdom, Father, Treasure, Heart, Ruler, Inheritance which invoke a spirit of reverence in us today.
And now, let us hear, Be Thou My Vision, sung by the Choir of King’s College and Stephen Cleobury.
Background of the Tune
The tune, Slane, paired with Be Thou My Vision is, perhaps, even older than the text. Undoubtedly of ancient Irish folk origin, it is associated with Slane Hill, located near Tara in what is now the modern Irish County Meath, where in 433 A.D. St. Patrick had a confrontation with King (Leary), marking the beginning of Christendom in Ireland. Continuing an ancient custom, King Leary inaugurated the Druid spring festival each year with a large bonfire. All other fires were forbidden until the festival had begun, but St. Patrick lit a Pascal Candle in celebration of Easter. Instead of punishment, King Leary allowed the Christians to practice their faith.
most popular hymn of Irish origin
Slane was first published by Patrick W. Joyce in Dublin, in 1909, in a collection entitled Old Irish Folk Music and Songs. This tune was later harmonized by David Evans, a noted researcher of folk tunes of the British Isles, in The Revised Church Hymnary of 1927. Slane, paired with Be Thou my Vision is effectively sung in unison, but whether in unison or in harmony, Be Thou my Vision is today, perhaps, the most popular hymn of Irish origin.
And now we hear the tune, performed by Steven Anderson in 101 Classic Piano Hymns.
Devotion or Scripture Related to the Hymn
Be Thou my Vision is a timeless lorica or prayer, expressing faith in a God of ultimate power, wisdom and goodness and the longing of the believer for true communion encompassing, past, present and future, culminating in the joys of heaven. There is evidence of a mystic understanding of the importance of living each day in close connection with God who reigns above, while dwelling within us. It is also a wonderful and practical prayer and guide for everyday life.
Matthew 13: 16-17
When coupled with the powerful, sweeping melody of Slane, Be Thou My Vision brings about a sense of reverence and connection to the believers in ancient Ireland, who have given this hymn as a gift to all people of faith today. In Matthew, Chapter 13, verses 16 and 17, Jesus speaks to us: “But the blessed are our eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
And now, hear Be Thou My Vision, performed by The Cambridge Singers, with John Rutter.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Hymn of the Week. Tune in again next week when we will consider another great hymn.
Until then, this is your host, Dr. Larry Frazier…
Goodbye and Keep Singing!