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Using any of the standard hymnals, what is the oldest hymn that people are still singing?


  • The Baptist Hymnal 1975 / 1991 / 2008,
  • The Faith We Sing (Methodist, right?),
  • The (Episcopal) Hymnal 1982,
  • Adoremus (or anything else Catholics use)
  • or just about any standard denominationally based hymnal in current usage

Alternatively, I'll take anything on, since my aim is just to find old hymns - I'm just trying to avoid someone pulling out a hymnal from the 1700s and pulling out some song nobody knows...

Let me strike out one answer real quick - yes, I know the Psalms is a Jewish hymnbook. The problem that I have with including the Psalms in the scope of this question is that we don't have the music :)

I suspect somebody can find obscure hymns that are old, but I'm looking for old hymns that are still sung widely. I suspect things like the Doxology, the Sanctus, or other parts of the Mass would be likely candidates, but I'd like to see the oldest we can come up with.

Please include the date of the text and the music, if you could

e.g. "All Creatures of Our God and King", words by Francis of Assisi (1200s), tune is Lasst Uns Erfreuen, 1623.

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Lots of Catholics Parishes in the US use the Adoremus hymnal and the GIA hymnal. –  Peter Turner Mar 5 '12 at 20:35
Thanks Peter! I know I can always count ya! –  Affable Geek Mar 5 '12 at 20:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Probably the oldest text you'll find is the Phos Hilaron, sometimes known as "Hail gladdening light". The earliest music for it was a Byzantine Chant, and it's still largely sung in churches worldwide, though not so much in the West.

David Crowder released a version on his album "Church Music".

AFAIK, that's the oldest Christian hymn known today.

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I was going to say Adeste Fideles "Oh Come all Ye Faithful" as it was anachronistically placed in my kids' cartoon about St. Nicholas of Myra. It's old, but, Te Deum (4th century) was attributed to St. Ambrose and is sung by lots of Catholic religious to this day while praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

I'd say, David's answer is probably the right one for all of Christendom, but Te Deum would be one of the oldest hymns in the Latin Rite.

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The text, "Let All Mortal Flesh keep Silence", may be a close contender to the Phos Hilaron. It is in common use in some English speaking churches in the West, and the text is thought by some authorities to date back to the third century, perhaps 275 AD, or about the time of the Phos.

But this begs the question of exactly what you are looking for by way of criterion for determination. "The Song of Miriam" from Exodus has been used in Western Churches for years, and was included in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 in English. Do you date this to the time of original composition, just after the Crossing of the Red Sea, or does it only count from the time it was translated to English (late 15th / early 16th Centuries)? And some very old texts, like "Worthy is the Lamb", from Revelations 5:12-13, but was adapted as a hymn about 60 years ago, or so; the Phos Hilaron is a very old text, but it only became popular as a hymn within the past century, or so.

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Be Thou My Vision - is a hymn an ancient Irish hymn translated in English, thank God, and one of my favorite. I named my daughter - Jeriel, meaning, "The Vision of the Lord," in ancient Hebrew.

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I love that hymn (it's one of my favorites), but do you realise this question is asking for the oldest known hymn, not just old ones? Your suggestion is a thousand years newer than the other answers here. –  Caleb Jan 26 '14 at 0:26
Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Jan 26 '14 at 16:17
I don't think this should have been downvoted. The questioner states, "I'm looking for old hymns that are still sung widely" - old hymns plural. Not a contest. –  wberry May 18 '14 at 14:15

Hymns by Clement of Alexandria. There are two in The Hymnal 1982: "Shepherd of Tender Youth," and "Sunset to Sunrise Changes Now." Most cite "Shepherd of Tender Youth" as the elder hymn, dating to around CE 200. We're using "Sunset to Sunrise Changes Now" today.

A more commonly used very old hymn is "Welcome Happy Morning" by Venantius Fortunatus that dates to the sixth century.

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Welcome to the site. Do you have a reference for the dates of these hymns? –  fredsbend Mar 30 at 2:33

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