John Speller's Web Pages St. Patrick's Breastplate

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At least in the English- (and Gaelic-) speaking world St. Patrick is generally portrayed as wearing an emerald-green chasuble, as befits an Irish saint (though actually he was probably born in Somerset, England, like me). The Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis is unusual in having a mosaic of St. Patrick dressed in red, doubtless because the artist who designed it was a German, and did not know of the custom of dressing the saint in green.

Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (née Humphreys) based her poem, "St. Patrick's Breastplate," loosely on the "Lorica," traditionally ascribed to St. Patrick. Sir Charles Stanford produced a marvelous musical setting based on traditional Irish melodies. Incidentally, Mrs. C. F. Alexander's nephew (a delightful man of great antiquity and not a great deal of competence) was my orthodontist, but that's another story.

Stanford collected the tune from a certain Mr. Southwell. The text traditionally sung to it in Ireland was not the "Lorica," but St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Latin hymn, "Jesu Dulcis Memoria."

St. Patrick's Breastplate, with Stanford's tune, was included in the Supplement to the Second Edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern, edited by Dr. Charles Steggall in 1889. Ralph Vaughan Williams also included it in the English Hymnal of 1906. Vaughan Williams (apparently with Stanford's blessing) made some changes to Stanford's original, including the use of a different tune, "Deirdre," for verse 6, and a different organ arrangement. Here, alas, lies the rub, for the Episcopal Hymnals of 1916, 1940 and 1982 all included the Vaughan Williams version rather than Stanford's original. What makes this unfortunate is that, in my humble opinion, Stanford's arrangement was considerably superior to Vaughan Williams'. I am accordingly reproducing Stanford's version, conformed to the text of the Hymnal of 1982 on this webpage.

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