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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

July 26, 2020: “Chorale Prelude on Slane” by Healey Willan and “Be Thou My Vision”

Music Message for 7/26/2020 from Danny

(If you do not see the music icons/links within this post, please click on the July 26, 2020 title/link above.)

“Chorale Prelude on Slane” by Healey Willan and “Be Thou My Vision”


This week I picked out an organ piece based on the old Irish folk tune “Slane,” which is named for a hill in County Meath, Ireland, where Saint Patrick famously lit an Easter fire in an act of defiance against the pagan king Loegaire in the fifth century. The text that goes with this hymn tune is “Be Thou My Vision.” (There is also another popular text that goes with it–“Lord of All Hopefulness”–I’ll talk about that hymn another time.) The text for “Be Thou My Vision” is a translation of the Old Irish prayer “Rop tú mo Baile.” An English version of this prayer was made by Mary Elizabeth Byrne in 1905 for the School of Irish Learning‘s journal “Ériu.” And then Byrne’s version was versified in 1912 by Eleanor Hull, president of the Irish Literary Society. Hull’s version is the text found in our hymnal today (though only three of her stanzas are included).

“Rop tú mo Baile”/”Be Thou My Vision” belongs to a particular category of prayer known as a lorica, a prayer for protection. Lorica is a Latin word, which originally meant “armor” or “breastplate.” One thing that’s very interesting about “Rop tú mo Baile”/”Be Thou My Vision” is that it uses military imagery that is very reflective of the clan culture prevalent in Ireland in its early Christian period — for example, God is depicted in this hymn as a “high king.”

Here is a recording from my apartment of an organ piece that makes use of the tune “Slane.” The piece is by the Anglo-Canadian composer Healey Willan:

I’d also like to offer my recording of my organ accompaniment to “Be Thou My Vision.” I recorded this back in the fall of 2019 during a practice session at Saint Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg. (I used to have weekly practice time there–it sure beats using the electronic contraption in the apartment!) Anyway, here it is: my organ treatment along with the words to read or sing along with. Oh, P.S. I only played an intro and four verses, but I’m including all five stanzas here because I think they are interesting to read. (Our hymnal omits two of the stanzas. Some hymnals only omit one…) Thanks for listening!

1 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.

2 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.

3 Be thou my battle shield, sword for my fight;
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r:
raise thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

4 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.

5 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.