Behind the Christmas Song: O Come O Come Emmanuel

The words and music of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” developed separately.

Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, where the Savior would be born

Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, where the Savior would be born

The original text, which was in Latin, was first documented in 1710 in Germany.

The tune has it’s origins in 15th Century France.

In the early church something called O Anitphons were used. An antiphon is a response by the choir or congregation and used in the form of a Gregorian chant to answer a psalm or other religious musical piece.

Research shows these were Magnificant antipohns used at Vespers in the last seven days of Advent.  Each of the Antiphons began with an O.

God is with us

God is with us

O Emmanuel was used on December 23rd to mean O with us is God.

In the 12th Century, a hymn text was published in Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, which was published in Cologne in 1710. This text stated “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel..Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

This version of the hymn provided five verses.  The first verse “Veni, veni Emmanuel!” translates into “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

Because “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a metrical hymn with the common four beat

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus

meter scheme, the English and Latin words are able to be used interchangeably.

The tune we in the English speaking world associate with this song is known as Veni Emmanuel. 

This tune was first linked with the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in 1851.

In 1966, British musicologist Mary Berry discovered the melody in the National Library of France.

The song continues to maintain much of it’s original Latin roots in telling the story of the coming of Emmanuel.