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O Come, All Ye Faithful

posted Dec 24, 2011, 11:15 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 2:04 PM ]
It was once commonly believed that this well-known carol dated back to the 13th century and was written by either St. Bonaventure; an order of monks; or King John IV of Portugal, earning it the nickname “The Portuguese Hymn.”  However, evidence has shown it was written in 1743 by John Francis Wade, a Roman Catholic Englishman who earned a living copying and selling chants.  (Before Xerox or mimeograph machines, it was a profitable profession!)  Fearing religious persecution by the British throne because of the Jacobite rebellion, Wade fled to France, where his Adeste Fideles, Laeti triumphante became so popular it was published in 1751; 1760 and again in 1782. 

When the persecution ended, English Catholic refugees returned home and brought the song with them.  It became equally as popular among Protestants.  Anglican minister Rev. Frederick Oakeley translated it to English as Ye Faithful, Approach Ye.  However, once he converted to Catholicism and improved his Latin as a priest, he re-translated it in 1852 to the version we still sing today. 

Yet clarifying the disputed origins of this song has only led to more intrigue.  Professor Bennet Zon of Durham University has found substantial evidence that it originally had a hidden political meaning related to the Jacobite movement, who were dedicated to returning Catholic Kings to the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland.  In secret political code it was a “birth ode” to Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart, with the “faithful” being the Catholic Jacobites.  Bethlehem was a common Jacobite code for England; and Regem Angelorum (born the King of Angels) a pun on Regem Anglorum (born the King of the English.)

Whatever your political beliefs, this majestic hymn has certainly left its mark on history, even if the marks are a bit smudgy.  Numerous cover versions have been recorded by artists from around the world, including Bing Crosby; Nat King Cole; Elvis Presley; Stan Kenton; Celine Dion; Josh Groban; Twisted Sister; Brian McKnight; Mariah Carey; Tennessee Ernie Ford; Susan Boyle; Enya and Take 6.