Crown Him with Many Crowns: to tune Diademeta

Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.
Awake my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King
through all eternity.

The original text for this hymn was written by Matthew Bridges. Bridges was born at Malden in Essex, England, on July 14, 1800. Educated to be a minister in the Church of England, his main interests were literature and history, and he published a book entitled The Roman Empire Under Constantine the Great, which contained many passages against the Roman Catholic Church. However, in 1848, under the influence of John Henry Newman and others in the Oxford Movement, he went into the Catholic Church. While he continued writing history and political works he is best known for his religious poetry. This hymn first appeared in his book Hymns of the Heart in 1851 and had six verses.

The hymn is based on Revelation 19:12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.

Bridges lived his latter years in Quebec, Canada, but returned to England where he died at Sidmouth in 1894.

During the 1870s, objections were made to Bridge’s words, perhaps because of the complex references to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Godfrey Thring (1823-1903), an Anglican priest, composed a new version to combat concerns that Protestant congregations were singing Catholic theology. He said: “The greater part of this hymn was originally written at the request of the Reverend H. W. Hutton, to supply the place of some of the stanzas in Matthew Bridges’ well-known hymn, of which he and others did not approve; it was afterwards thought better to rewrite the whole, so that the two hymns might be kept entirely distinct”. This didn’t happen and the two sets of verses were combined, but it does mean that there are a great number of variations of this hymn text. Almost no two hymnals include the exact same arrangement of phrases or number/order of verses. It’s difficult even to say what the most common verses are!

The title of this hymn alone is a profound declaration that Christ is many things: Christ was not simply a teacher, he was not simply Mary’s son, and he was not simply human, nor simply divine. He is Lord of all, to be crowned for many things that all add up to him being Saviour of the world. Each individual verse of this hymn is its own coronation ceremony for aspects of Christ’s character. We are called to crown him Lord of life, Lord of love, Lord of years, Lord of peace, the Lamb upon the throne.

God words need a stirring tune and DIADEMATA (meaning “crowns”) is the tune that was written by Sir George Job Elvey, a prolific writer of church music, in 1868 for this hymn. This hymn tune has been described as “march-like and joyful without ever becoming mechanical or strident.” There is a real sense of momentum in the tune’s third phrase (“awake my soul and sing of him who died for thee”). It demands enthusiasm.

Over 150 years later congregations are still singing out with gusto this truth:
All Hail, Redeemer hail! For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.