The Oldest Christmas Carol, Jesus Refulsit Omnium

Oldest Christmas Carol. Wise Men and Infant Jesus in Manger

The oldest Christmas Carol historians have knowledge of is a 4th century motet or Epiphany: ‘Jesus Refulsit Omnium’ – Jesus, Light of All the Nations – exactly translating Jesus, the brilliance of all. It depicts the sudden realization that enlightened the Magi, the Wise Men, when they finally arrived to the stable where infant Jesus had been born and it was created by St. Hilary of Poitiers between 310 – 367 (most probably without any instrumental backing).

Listen to this touching rendition of Jesus Refulsit Omnium as performed by the Chamber Choir of George Watson’s College at the annual Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, on 16th December 2015:

You can find the choir, a capella sheet music here. The lyrics in Latin are below:

Jesus refulsit omnium
Pius redemptor gentium
Totum genus fidelium
Laudes celebret dramatum

Quem stella natum fulgida
Monstrat micans per authera
Magosque duxit praevia
Ipsius ad cunabula

Illi cadentes parvulum
Pannis adorant obsitum
Verum fatentur ut Deum
Munus ferendo mysticum.

 The Magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915 . oldest christmas carol Jesus Refulsit Omnium
The Magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915

This is the English translation by Kevin Hawthorne, PhD :

‘Jesus, devoted redeemer of all nations, has shone forth,
Let the whole family of the faithful celebrate the stories

The shining star, gleaming in the heavens, makes him known at his birth and, going before, has led the Magi to his cradle

Falling down, they adore the tiny baby hidden in rags,
as they bear witness to the true God by bringing a mystical gift.’

Saint Hillary of Poitiers, whose first name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful, hilari, was a Bishop of Poitiers who later received the title of Doctor of the Church. It is worth mentioning that in Latin doctor means ‘teacher’ – thus Doctor of the Church recognized a significant contribution brought to theology through research, study, or writing. Three hymns are attributed to St. Hillary of Poitiers thus making him the first Latin Christian hymn writer.

Charles Bosseron, Adoration of the Magi. oldest christmas carol Jesus Refulsit Omnium
Charles Bosseron, Adoration of the Magi

What exactly is a motet?

A motet is a short, sacred vocal composition. I love the etymology of the word motet. Originating in the Latin movere, ‘to move’, it depicts the movement (against each other) that the various voices produce during the song. Yet considering motet as a diminutive deriving from the French mot, ‘word’, it depicts a ‘little word’ – thus a short song.
The medieval motet most probably became the sacred Renaissance madrigals.

I am Christian Orthodox, yet I love the peace that washes over me when I listen to Catholic vocal compositions, late-medieval to present. My native language, Romanian, resonates closely to its Latin roots and the one year of Latin study I did in school has added an aura of mystery and enchantment to this now dead language.

I hope you enjoyed listening to what is believed to be the oldest Christmas carol, Jesus Refulsit Omnium.

Song lyrics and movie clip are property and copyright of their owners and are provided for educational purposes and personal use only.

The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .

Wishing everyone a blessed Holiday Season!

Which one is your favorite Christmas song?

You might also enjoy reading A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania.

1st Day of Christmas Haiku, #Christmas, #partridge, #peartree via @PatFurstenberg

1st Day of Christmas Sunday Haiku: Haiku-San, A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Partridge in pear tree

Feathers fly around, chirping.

I contemplate snow.


Merry Christmas!

I hope you will enjoy the “12 Days of Christmas” themed haiku published here starting today, on the Day Christianity celebrates the Birth of Jesus. This song is over 230 years old and was first publish without musical accompaniment, as a chant.

What is the pear tree doing in a Christmas song? Cecil Sharp, an English folk song connoisseur, believes that pear tree is just the French perdrix (partridge) lost in translation: “un’ perdrix sole”

Did you know that in the old versions of “12 Days of Christmas” the word on was not present at the beginning of each verse? It was introduced in the 1909 printed version of Austin and it stuck – proof to the power of the printed word.

Did you know that some older versions have juniper tree or June apple tree instead of pear tree?

In older versions my true love is  replaced by my mother and partridge is replaced with very pretty peacock.

“12 Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, the verse structure modified so that each verse is based on the previous one with minor additions. Other such songs are The Barley Mow:

“Here’s good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.

Here’s good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow”

or The Rattlin’ Bog:

“Hi ho, the rattlin’ bog,
The bog down in the valley-o,
Hi ho, the rattlin’ bog,
The bog down in the valley-o.

1. Now in the bog there was a tree,
A rare tree, a rattlin’ tree,
The tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.

2. And on that tree there was a branch,
A rare branch, a rattlin’ branch,
The branch on the tree, and the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.”

Yiddish folk music contains many wonderful examples of cumulative songs. The French nursery rhyme Alouette is another great example.

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You can enjoy more haiku on this page of my website

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12 Days of Christmas images available freely on

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

The song verse are quoted for educational purpose only, source wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.


Star #Christmas #Haiku via @PatFurstenberg

Star, a Christmas Haiku

Brighter than the moon

In its magical glory.

Prayer for my home.


Welcome to Christmas Haiku! This December you can enjoy a winter themed haiku each day until Christmas Day. From the 25th of December I will post a super-special series of haiku on a humorous theme. My Christmas prezzie for YOU! Subscribe to my blog (newsletter sign up on the right column or beneath this post) and never miss a haiku with your morning coffee or favorite cuppa! Merry Christmas!

You can enjoy more haiku on this page of my website or in my new book of Christmas Haiku:

An inspirational collection of winter and Christmas themed haiku to help you relax.Enjoy a daily haiku paired with gorgeous seasonal images as well as haiku for “The 12 Days of Christmas”

Find it on Amazon worldwide in paperback and for Kindle / e-reader: Amazon US, Amazon UK.



You can find all my book on Amazon. Enjoy!

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.