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  • Shawn Thornton

The Story Behind "Be Thou My Vision"

Sunday - October 31st

Scripture to Read Today: Hebrews 12:1-2


Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The story behind Be Thou My Vision begins with St. Patrick. When he was just sixteen years old, pirates kidnapped Patrick and sold him into slavery in Ireland. He entered adulthood knowing the Gaelic language and Irish customs. He also became a Christian during this time. Years later, he managed to escape and return home to his family in England. While most people would have stayed home forever, Patrick chose to go back to Ireland as a missionary!

On Easter Sunday in 433, the local Irish king issued a decree to observe a pagan Druid festival that prohibited anyone from lighting a flame or candle. Patrick, refusing to honor anyone but Christ, stood against the king. That morning, Patrick risked his life by climbing to the tallest hill in the area and lighting a massive fire. As the Irish people woke up, they could see Patrick's defiance of the king. Yet, he could not hide his light. Patrick wanted to show the world that God's light shines in darkness and that only He deserves praise.

Years later, an unknown composer wrote a melody in honor of Patrick's heroism. The song was called "Slane." The now-forgotten composer named it after the hill where Patrick let his light shine: "Slane Hill." People still recognize the tune today.

While the story behind the melody is legendary, the history behind the lyrics is much more obscure. Tradition tells us that an Irish poet from the 6th century named St. Dallán Forgaill wrote a Gaelic poem entitled Rop tú mo Baile, in honor of St. Patrick. Borrowing from "St. Patrick's Breastplate," another medieval poem, Forgaill's lyrics referred to God as his "battle shield" and "high tower." These phrases still exist in the modern version today.

Sadly, the oldest existing copy of Forgaill's poem comes from the 14th century, which included no indication of its author. Since no other historical evidence connects Forgaill to the poem, verifying the lyrics' actual origin to Be Thou My Vision is impossible. As a result, most hymnals attribute the song to "Anonymous."

As the years passed, Slane and Rop tú mo Baile fell into obscurity. Their authors, once known, faded away into the fogs of time.

But in 1905, nearly fifteen hundred years after Saint Patrick lit a flame on Slane Hill, the forgotten hymn re-emerged. Mary Byrne, a 25-year-old university student, discovered the 14th-century copy of Rop tú mo Baile and translated it into English for the very first time. At that moment, the now-hallowed lyrics, "Be thou my vision... oh Lord of my heart", sprang from the forgotten pages of time and into the modern world.

Later in 1912, an Irish woman named Eleanor Hull set the words to music. The melody she used was none other than "Slane," the medieval tune written in honor of St. Patrick. The hymn became famous overnight and appeared in its first hymnal in 1919. In 2019, the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the modern version of Be Thou My Vision.

As we travel the journey of the Christian life, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus!

Enjoy the lyrics of this great hymn:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art

Thou my best thought, by day or by night

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word

I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father, and I thy true son

Thou in me dwelling and I with thee one

Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise

Thou mine inheritance, now and always

Thou and thou only first in my heart

High King of heaven, my treasure thou art

High King of heaven, my victory won

May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's sun

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall

Still be my vision, O ruler of all

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall

Still be my vision, O ruler of all


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