Once In Royal David's City is a Christmas carol, which was originally a poem written by Cecil Frances Alexander, who in 1848 married an Anglican clergyman, and in 1867, upon her husband's consecration, thereby became a bishop's wife. It is set to the music of English organist Henry John Gauntlett.
Once In Royal David's City was published in 1848 in Miss Cecil Humphreys' hymnbook Hymns for little Children. A year later, H.J. Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Since 1919, the King's College Chapel (King's College, Cambridge) has begun its Christmas Eve service, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, with "Once in Royal David's City" as the processional. The first verse is sung by a boy chorister of the Choir of King's Chapel as a solo. The second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in the third verse. Excluding the first verse, the hymn is accompanied by the organ. The arrangement, by A H Mann, is slightly different in harmony from the setting in Hymns Ancient and Modern. As the service is broadcast live on the BBC World Service, it is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide who tune in to this service.
The city that the song speaks of is Bethlehem, which the New Testament records as the historical birthplace of Jesus and also of his ancestor King David.
This song has been recorded by the King's College Choir, Cantillation Sinfonia Australis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Chieftains, Jane Sheldon, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Petula Clark, Jethro Tull, and popular singer Sufjan Stevens on his compilation album Songs for Christmas.
This carol was the first recording that the King's College Choir under Boris Ord made for EMI in 1948.
- Once in royal David's city
- Stood a lowly cattle shed,
- Where a mother laid her baby
- In a manger for His bed:
- Mary was that mother mild,
- Jesus Christ her little child.
- He came down to earth from heaven,
- Who is God and Lord of all,
- And His shelter was a stable,
- And His cradle was a stall;
- With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
- Lived on earth our Saviour Holy.
- And through all His wondrous childhood
- He would honour and obey,
- Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
- In whose gentle arms He lay:
- Christian children all must be
- Mild, obedient, good as He.
- For He is our childhood's pattern; (1)
- Day by day, like us He grew;
- He was little, weak and helpless,
- Tears and smiles like us He knew;
- And He feeleth for our sadness,
- And He shareth in our gladness.
- And our eyes at last shall see Him,
- Through His own redeeming love;
- For that Child so dear and gentle
- Is our Lord in heaven above,
- And He leads His children on
- To the place where He is gone.
- Not in that poor lowly stable,
- With the oxen standing by,
- We shall see Him; but in heaven,
- Set at God's right hand on high;
- Where like stars His children crowned (2)
- All in white shall wait around.
(1) Or: "Jesus" is our childhood's pattern
(2) Or: "When" like stars His children crown'd