Home History of Hymns: "Crown Him with Many Crowns"

History of Hymns: "Crown Him with Many Crowns"

"Crown Him with Many Crowns"
Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 327

Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.
Awake my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King
through all eternity.

Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), like several others of his era, started in the Anglican Church and then, following the lead of John Henry Newman (1801-1890), became a Roman Catholic.

This was the time of the Oxford Movement in England. The Oxford Movement centered on, according to hymnologist Albert Bailey, “claiming for their Anglican Church lineal descent from the original Apostolic Church.” In pursuit of this, adherents to the movement studied the ancient history of the church, its doctrine, and especially its liturgy. In doing so they discovered a wealth of Greek and Latin hymnody from the earliest centuries of the Christian church.

Dated from 1833 with a sermon by John Keble, the movement gained steam under John Henry Newman. The earliest years of the movement were given to translations of Greek and Latin hymns by such important figures as Edward Caswall (1814-1878) and John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Wanting to share in the rich hymnic tradition of the Protestant Church, former Anglican poets now converted to Roman Catholicism such as Frederick Faber (1814-1863) and Matthew Bridges began writing original hymns.

Bridges was born in Essex, England and left the Church of England to become Roman Catholic in 1848, just three years after John Henry Newman had taken that course. He lived his latter years in Quebec, Canada, returning to England before his death.

He published two small volumes of hymns, Hymns of the Heart (1847) and The Passion of Jesus (1852). “Crown him with many crowns” was published in the second edition of Hymns of the Heart in 1851 in six, eight-line stanzas. According to Methodist hymnologist Fred Gaely’s research, the stanzas appear under the title “In capite ejus, diamemata multa, Apoc. xix. 12” (“His [the rider of the white horse] eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.”)

Once the hymn appeared in the Appendix to the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868), the monumental hymnal of the Oxford Movement, its future was assured.

If there was ever a hymn that suited Christ the King Sunday (last Sunday before Advent begins a new Christian Year), it is this hymn. The original six stanzas mention six crowns: “Crown him . . . the Lamb upon the throne” (stanza one) drawn from Revelation 22:1; “Crown him the Virgin’s Son” (original stanza two); “Crown him the Son of God” (original stanza three); “Crown him the Lord of Love” (original stanza four); “Crown him the Lord of Peace” (original stanza five); and “Crown him the Lord of Years” (original stanza six).

Hymnology scholar J. R. Watson, notes that, “During the 1870s, objections were made to Bridge’s words, perhaps because of the complex references to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Godfrey Thring (1823-1903), an Anglican priest, composed a new version and published it in his Hymns and Sacred Lyrics (1874). The United Methodist Hymnal, like many others, combines a stanza of Thring’s text (stanza two) with three from Bridges’ original.

A good or even a great text does not survive without a stirring tune. DIADEMATA (meaning “crowns”) is the tune that was written by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893) for this hymn when it was published in the Appendix of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868. Watson agrees with most when he observes, “[DIADEMATA] makes a magnificent setting for the text, march-like and joyful without ever becoming mechanical or strident.” The popular tune appears four times, each to a different text, in The UM Hymnal.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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