Sunday, January 4, 2009

Star of the East

Some churches will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany today, commemorating the visit of the Three Kings to Bethlehem, while some will wait until January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas and "official" date. Here at CWS we can mark it both days; there are plenty of Epiphany hymns to go around!

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on God's people and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on thy cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies thy head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore thee in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

Shall we then yield thee, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would thy favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on God's people and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Reginald Heber, 1811; alt.
James P. Harding, 1892

Priest Reginald Heber wrote many hymns which were first published in the Anglican periodical Christian Observer. Later in life he was named Bishop of India, and while there he was pleased to hear this hymn "better than I ever heard (it) in a church before," sung during the dedication of a remote church near the Himalayas. It has since become one of the most well-known Epiphany hymns, sung across many denominations.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I wonder what tune Heber heard it sung to. Harding's Morning Star is certainly the most common setting in American hymnals, but it wasn't written till long after Heber's death (in, I think, 1826). I'm rather partial to the shapenote tunes for this hymn—the Southern Harmony's Star in the East and Walker (given in the New Century Hymnal), and the Sacred Harp's Star in the East, preferably the Christmas version beginning with the anonymous "Hail the blest morn" and utilizing "Brightest and best" as the refrain, but my online hymnal also sets gives several other tunes (J F Thrupp's Epiphany Hymn, H Walford Davies' Wallog, Dykes' St Ninian, Epiphany (Wesley), and the anonymous German Liebster Immanuel, this last being the only one old enough to have been sung near the Himalayas in Heber's lifetime. Any ideas?

One little quibble: The 12th day of Christmas is January 5th, not the 6th. Though of course the Armenian Orthodox, celebrating Christmas on January 19th, would beg to differ.

Leland aka Haruo

AuntE said...

The tune I favour is one written by Canadian Healey Willan, STELLA ORIENTIS. In fact, this is the only tune I've ever heard with these words. I'm guessing it's more commonly found in Canadian hymnals.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it the 12th day AFTER Christmas?

Leland Bryant Ross said...

January 6th is the 12th day after Christmas, but January 5th is the 12th day of Christmas, in the old church calendar where Christmas is a twelve-day feast.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

Well, I did count it out on my fingers but I was obviously counting days after Christmas. Fixed now.

Healey Willan's hymn tunes are not very well known in the US though his anthems and some of his service music have been popular. STELLA ORIENTIS is a nice tune that was on a Willan CD several years ago with my own favorite of his tunes, ST. OSMUND.

As to which tune was used way back in India, there was no reference to the tune in the place I found the anecdote. The German one seems unlikely, but it's hard to tell. The hymn was never actually published in a hymnal in Heber's lifetime, and anyway hymnals at that time didn't include the tunes.