Friday, March 27, 2015

O God of Earth and Altar

I was, unfortunately, unable to watch Richard III's reinterment ceremony yesterday, but I looked through the program and saw a hymn by G.K. Chesterton which I've never seen or heard of before. I subsequently found that there are a couple of tunes the hymn is set to, but this one seems the superior of the two. I love it, even though it appears in almost no Catholic hymnals. I wish this, and not "On Eagles' Wings", were standard fare for funerals in English speaking Catholic-dom.

O God of earth and altar,
 bow down and hear our cry,
 our earthly rulers falter,
 our people drift and die;
 the walls of gold entomb us,
 the swords of scorn divide,
 take not thy thunder from us,
 but take away our pride.

 From all that terror teaches,
 from lies of tongue and pen,
 from all the easy speeches
 that comfort cruel men,
 from sale and profanation
 of honor, and the sword,
 from sleep and from damnation,
 deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
 the prince and priest and thrall,
 bind all our lives together,
 smite us and save us all;
 in ire and exultation
 aflame with faith, and free,
 lift up a living nation,
 a single sword to thee.

Other entries during "Richard III Week":

-Today in history: Henry IV: the man whose claim to the crown started the troubles that led to the Wars of the Roses

-The first day: Richard on tour: select photos from the procession on Sunday, and the cardinal-archbishop of Westminster's Compline homily

-The Bible in Richard's day, and, was Richard a proto-Protestant?: on the king's reading habits and what to make of his Wycliffe New Testament

-A requiem for Richard: on the Requiem Mass, the king's faith, his book of hours, the cult of purgatory, and the chantry chapels of Richard's age

-Of hearses and hearse cloths: looking at Richard III's funeral pall and dressing the dead in medieval times

-Richard III's claim to the throne: sanguinity, statue, or sacrament?: Examining Richard's dynastic claims and what makes a king the king

-O God of Earth and Altar: a hymn by G.K. Chesterton, used at the reinterment on Thursday

-The poet laureate on Richard III: the poem at the reinterment. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I too had heard it for the first time at Richard's funeral and loved it. It just made me cry really hard when that ceremony began. And I just had to download it. So now it is forever connected with Richard in my mind and I have trouble not crying when I'm hearing it. It stood out from other hymns for me. I'm not a music expert, I can just say that there was something special about the rhythm and melody that I liked. Here's some trivia: I recently discovered that the first verse is recited by Iron Maiden in their song "Revelations." And that was quite a revelation for me because I've been listening to that song for years! lol

    1. Yes, I also suspect that a lot of people's first exposure to this hymn was via Iron Maiden. I forgot to mention that connection in this post.

  2. Perhaps this hymn is not inappropriate to our own, presently parlous times