Behind the Hymn: Angels from the Realms of Glory

Angels from the Realms of Glory was written by Scottish poet James Montgomery.

James Montgomery was born on November 4, 1771 in Scotland to Irish parents.  His father, John Montgomery, was the only Moravian pastor serving in Scotland at the time.

James Montgomery

When James was five, his parents left him with a Moravian group in County Atrium, Ireland while they went to the West Indies as missionaries.  James never saw his parents again and they died in the West Indies when he was twelve.

As a lad, he began to write poetry and even sold them in the streets at times.

It took James a while to discover his niche, but he eventually began working at a local newspaper.  He took control in his early 20s and changed the newspaper to the name of Sheffield Iris.  He was jailed on more than one occasion for taking a stand and for his beliefs.

He drifted from his faith in his youth, but returned to the Moravian church as he grew older.

On Christmas Eve 1816, he was reading the Christmas story in Luke 2 when the words of the angels appearing saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will

Angels appeared with the news of the Saviors birth

toward men” {Luke 2:13-14} appealed to him.

He was inspired to write the hymn and printed it in his newspaper.

Each verse speaks to a different group of people.

Angels from the Realms of Glory was first printed in the Sheffield Iris on Christmas Eve 1816, though it only began to be sung in churches after its reprinting in the Montgomery collection The Christian Psalmist and in the Religious Tract Society’s The Christmas Box or New Year’s Gift.

The song was first sung in a Moravian Church in England, on Christmas day in 1821, and from that day on the world would have the wonderful carol, often heard at Christmastime, “Angels From the Realms of Glory.”

Before 1928, the hymn was sung to a variety of tunes, including “Regent Square”, “Lewes” by John Randall, and “Wildersmouth” or “Feniton Court” by Edward Hopkins.

In the United States, the hymn is today most commonly sung to the tune of “Regent Square” by Henry Smart.

In the United Kingdom, however, the hymn came to be sung to the French carol tune “Iris” after this setting was published in the Oxford Book of Carols.

Sometimes the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” refrain is sung in place of Montgomery’s original lyric: “Come and worship Christ the new-born King”.

James Montgomery would write nearly 400 hymns during his lifetime.  He died on April 30, 1854 in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England.

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