April 6, 2013

Bethlehem of Noblest Cities / O Sola Magnarum Urbium

Fairer Than the Sun at Morning

Bethlehem of Noblest Cities is a translation of the Latin poem, O Sola Magnarum Urbium by the Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius (348-c.413). He was a lawyer and Governor in Northern Spain. Although likely brought up a Christian (for he never writes of a conversion), later in life he experiences a profound sense of regret for his past zeal for career and worldly affairs. From then on he adopts an austere and penitential life and devotes his efforts to writing for the Glory of God. O Sola Magnarum Urbium was composed during this period. It is drawn from the lyrical poem Quicumque Christum Quærtis (Hymn for the Epiphany) from his collection, Liber Cathemerinon. In 1568, it was introduced into the revised Breviary by St. Pius V as the Lauds Hymn on Epiphany. In 1849 it was translated by Fr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878). It is set to the tune, Stuttgart attributed to Christian Friedrich Witt (1660-1716) and first published in the Psalmodia Sacra of 1715. In the Divine Office, Bethlehem of Noblest Cities is used during Christmas, at Epiphany, and other Feast Days of the Nativity.

Tune: Stuttgart

BETHLEHEM! OF NOBLEST CITIES by Edward Caswall, 1849 (Public Domain)

1. Bethlehem! of noblest cities
none can once with thee compare;
thou alone the Lord from heaven
didst for us Incarnate bear.

2. Fairer than the sun at morning
was the star that told His birth;
to the lands their God announcing,
hid beneath a form of earth.

3. By its lambent beauty guided,
see the eastern kings appear;
see them bend, their gifts to offer:
gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh.

4. Solem things of mystic meaning!
Incense doth the God disclose;
Gold a royal Child proclaimeth;
Myrrh a future tomb foreshows.

5. Holy Jesu, in Thy brightness
to the Gentile world displayed,
with the Father and the Spirit,
endless praise to Thee be paid.


1. O Sola magnarum urbium
maior Bethlehem, cui contigit
ducem salutis caelitus
incorporatum gignere.

2. Haec stella, quae solis rotam
vincit decore ac lumine,
venisse terris nuntiat
cum carne terrestri Deum.

3. Videre postquam illum Magi,
eoa promunt munera:
stratique votis offerunt
thus, myrrham, et aurum regium.

  4. Regem Deumque annuntiant
 thesaurus, et fragrans odor
 thuris Sabaei, ac myrrheus
 pulvis sepulchrum praedocet.

5. Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui apparuisti gentibus,
cum Patre, et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula.

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