Behind the Hymn: A Great and Mighty Wonder

St. Germanus I

A great and mighty wonder is a little-known Christmas Carol.  The hymn is German in origin.

The hymn was written by St. Germanus I. He was born in Constantinople of a patrician family in 634 Greece. He was ordained in Constantinople and subsequently became bishop of Cyzicus. He was present at the Synod of Constantinople in 712, which restored the Monothelite heresy; but in after years he condemned it. He was made patriarch of Constantinople in 715. In 730 he was driven from the see, not without blows, for refusing to yield to the Iconoclastic Emperor Leo the Isaurian. He died shortly afterwards, at the age of one hundred years. He only wrote a few hymns including A Great and Mighty Wonder.

John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale translated the carol. He was born in 1818 to an evangelical home. In 1942, he was ordained in the Church of England, but his ill health and support of the Oxford Movement kept him from ordinary parish ministry. He had sympathies towards Rome but was often in ill health and devoted his time to improving social conditions. So, Neale spent the years between 1846 and 1866 as a warden of Sackville College in East Grinstead, a retirement home for poor men. There he served the men faithfully and expanded Sackville’s ministry to indigent women and orphans. He also founded the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, which became one of the finest English training orders for nurses. He was often ignored or despised by his contemporaries but is lauded today for his contributions to the church and hymnody. He wrote several books and a variety of hymns. He also enjoyed translating Greek and Latin hymns into English. He claimed no rights to his texts and was pleased to contribute to hymnody as “common property of Christendom.” Many editors judged his translations as unsingable and amended his work.  Neale died in 1866.

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