Adeste Fideles

‘Adeste Fideles’ is one of the best known Christmas carols, but its origins are a musical detective story. The lyrics are usually attributed to John Francis Wade,  (1711 – 1786), an English music copyist who was exiled in France. A Catholic, Wade fled to France after the Jacobite rising of 1745 was crushed; he made his living by copying and selling plainchant and other music, and teaching Latin and church song.

Wade published the first versions of ‘Adeste Fideles’ in the 1700s; the earliest copies of this hymn are all signed by him. One of these copies was held at Clongowes Wood College, Kildare, and was believed to be the oldest known copy; it dated from 1746 or 1749. However, it was reportedly lost or stolen in the 1940s, so we don’t have an accurate date for the first known copy of the song.

If Wade is indeed the lyricist of ‘Adeste Fideles’, one interesting interpretation of the song is that it is rife with coded Jacobite meanings, sympathising with the Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, and celebrating the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The melody has been attributed to several musicians, including Handel and Gluck. There are a few melodies written around that time which are very similar to ‘Adeste… ‘. This gives us a musicological chicken-and-egg situation; we don’t know if ‘Adeste…’ was written in imitation of those melodies, or if those similar melodies were based on ‘Adeste…’ – or if there was some mysterious zeitgeist which led to a few composers writing the same melody independently of each other.

Regardless of its unconfirmed origins and function, the carol has been enthusiastically received for centuries. The original version by Wade consisted of four verses in Latin; later writers added a further four Latin verses. The hymn has been translated into at least 125 languages – indeed, William Studwell estimates by the late 1990s, there were almost 50 translations into English. The most commonly-used English translation is from 1841, by an English priest, Frederick Oakely, D.D. . I also include 2 Irish language translations below.

Bainigí taitneamh as!

The original 4 Latin verses published by Wade:

Adeste fideles læti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus (x3)

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine
Gestant puellæ viscera
Deum verum, genitum non factum.
Venite adoremus (x3)

Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum;
Cantet nunc aula cælestium,
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo,
Venite adoremus (x3)

Ergo qui natus die hodierna.
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Patris æterni Verbum caro factum.
Venite adoremus (x3)

The English translation from 1841, by Frederick Oakely, D.D.:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come, let us adore Him, (x3)
Christ the Lord.

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him, (x3)
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God, glory in the highest:
O come, let us adore Him, (x3)
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him, (x3)
Christ the Lord.

Here is an Irish language translation:

“O Come, All Ye Faithful – Wikipedia”. 2022. En.Wikipedia.Org.,_All_Ye_Faithful.

“Adeste Fideles – Notes On The Carol”. 2022. Hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.Com.

“John Francis Wade – Wikipedia”. 2022. En.Wikipedia.Org.