The seven great hymns of the mediaeval church/Vexilla Regis
THE VEXILA REGIS.
THE Vexilla Regis was written about the year 580—two hundred years before the time of Charlemagne, and seven hundred years before the birth of the English language. It is therefore one of the oldest of mediæval hymns.
Venantius Fortunatus, an Italian, whose birth-place is unknown, was in early life a citizen of Ravenna, from which he was driven by the great invasion of the Lombards. He passed into France, and became the fashionable poet of his time. Subsequently he devoted his talents to a holier object, and became the friend of Saint Radegunde and Saint Gregory. He removed to Tours, was made Bishop of Poitiers, and died about the year 600.
"This world-famous hymn, one of the grandest in the treasury of the Latin Church, was composed by Fortunatus on occasion of the reception of certain relics by Saint Gregory of Tours and Saint Radegunde, previously to the consecration of a church at Poitiers. It is therefore strictly and primarily a processional hymn, though, very naturally, afterwards adapted to Passion-tide."— Mediæval Hymns.
The last two verses were added when the hymn was appropriated to Passion-tide. The ending of Fortunatus is this:
"With fragrance dropping from each bough,
Sweeter than sweetest nectar thou:
Decked with the fruit of peace and praise,
And glorious with Triumphal lays:—
"Hail, Altar! Hail, O Victim! Thee
Decks now Thy Passion's Victory;
Where Life for sinners death endured,
And life by death for man procured."