Famous Christmas Carols – Story Behind the Carol – “Angels We Have Heard on High” – Glory to God in the Highest

One of the most memorable things about “Angels We Have Heard on High” is its early beginnings.  One account has that it was written in 129 AD.  In medieval times, French shepherds had a Christmas Eve tradition of shouting “Gloria in excelsis Deo” to each other as they watched over their sheep flocks on their respective hills in southern France. That phrase is now famous as the chorus of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High.’ Its most memorable feature is its chorus ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo!’, which is Latin for Glory to God in the Highest. It was called ‘The Angel’s Hymn’ and became the first Christmas hymn of the Christian church.

Clearly the early church understood 1 Timothy 3:16 and praised the Lord for coming to  save us from sin’s dread sway:

1 Tim.3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Angels We Have Heard on High

The words of the song are based on a traditional French carol known as Les Anges dans nos campagnes (literally, “Angels in our countryside”) composed by an unknown author in Languedoc, France. That song has received many adjustments or alignments including its most common English version that was translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, northeast England. The carol quickly became popular in the West Country, where it was described as ‘Cornish’ by R.R. Chope, and featured in Pickard-Cambridge‘s Collection of Dorset Carols.[1]

There is also a Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) translation of the carol which is known as Ainglean chuala sinn gu h-ard (literally, “Angels We Have Heard on High”). This was translated into Gaelic by Iain MacMilan from James Chadwick’s English translation.

Angels We Have Heard On High
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Gloria In Excelsis Deo

Shepherds, why this jubilee
Why your joyous strains prolong
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?


Come to Bethlehem and see
Him Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.



About jlue

I am a grandmother of seven and I like to garden, read, study the Bible, and spend time with family. I am not very politically active, but very interested in who is elected to lead our country.
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