The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came


WE are now in Advent, the run-up to Christmas, and this is a popular hymn for this season. It is also known as Gabriel’s Message, and contains this wonderful line:His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.

The original is a Basque carol called Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen, which according to Google Translate meansThere was a young virgin. In turn, this was based on Angelus Ad Virginem (Angel to the Virgin), a 13th or 14th century Latin carol. It is about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary when the messenger of God, the archangel Gabriel, descends to earth to tell her that she is to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It quotes the biblical account of the Annunciation (Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26-38):

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God . . .

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

And Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1.46-48):

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

The carol was collected by French music teacher and composer Charles Bordes (1863-1909) and paraphrased into English by Sabine Baring-Gould, who as a boy had spent a winter in the Basque country. Baring-Gould was a most extraordinary man, whose story I told here. 

These are his words:

The angel Gabriel from Heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame,
All hail, said he, thou lowly maiden Mary.
Most highly favoured Lady, Gloria.

For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel by seers foretold,
Most highly favoured Lady, Gloria.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify His holy Name.’
Most highly favoured Lady, Gloria.

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say,
Most highly favoured Lady, Gloria.

(I am sure I was not the only child who thought it witty and sophisticated to sing ‘Most highly flavoured lady’.)

The tune comes from the Latin original and is now called Gabriel’s Message. The arrangement commonly used is by Edgar Pettman (1866–1943) an English organist, choral conductor and music editor who included it in his best-known book, Modern Christmas Carols (1892).

Here it is by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge:

The same choir here perform a different arrangement by David Willcocks, the college’s director of music from 1957 to 1974.

The singer Sting recorded it for his album A Very Special Christmas, released in 1987 as a benefit for the Special Olympics.

He made another version for the 2009 CD If On a Winter’s Night.

ccount of the Annunciation (Luke, Ch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *