Hymn Story: Lift High the Cross

Lift High the Cross was written by George Kitchin in 1887. At the time he wrote the song, Kitchin was the Dean of Winchester for the Church of England.

“It has been suggested that the hymn was inspired by the story of Constantine the Great’s conversion to Christianity after seeing a cross with “In hoc signo vinces” on it. It was intended as a festival hymn and was first performed in Winchester Cathedral.”

George Kitchin

The story says that Constantine had a vision in which he saw the coss with the words “In hoc signo vinces” (“in this sign [of the cross] you will conquer”). Constantine recognized Christianity officially as a religion of the state, providing a basis for further spread of Christianity.”

In 1916, Michael R. Newbolt revised the hymn. He arranged the hymn into twelve couples. His version was published in the 1916 Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern. That edition also featured the tune set by Sydney Nicholson. That tune is known as “Crucifer“. This version is the well known version that has gained prominence.

“As British Methodist hymnologist J.R. Watson correctly points out, Nicholson “showed a fine sense of the potential of the words, the relatively subdued melody of the verses contrasting with the spectacular refrain.”

Lift High the Cross was first published in the United States in the 1974 Hymns for the Living Church. The hymn has been published in a variety of other hymnals.

Lift High the Cross is often sung during Lent or Holy Week. The song is also a popular processional hymn or recessional hymn.


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