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St. Denio

Descant to the hymn tune ST. DENIO. Free score with harmonized descant. Audio demo: intro ad lib - verse ad lib - descant verse Free score. 

1 hymnal (The English Hymnal, 1906)
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

2. descant
Thou reignest in glory, thou rulest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all laud we would render: O help us to see
'tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

 ST. DENIO first appeared under the name Palestrina, with the tune in the tenor, in the 1839 Welsh volume Caniadau y Cyssegr (Hymns of the Sanctuary). The tune, which the Welsh call JOANNA, had a prior life as a song or a ballad, and there are several cited examples that are likely sources. It is frequently attested (without a single citation) that the tune derives its name from St. Denis, patron saint of France, but it seems almost certain that the name actually refers to the first bishop (and patron saint) of Bangor, St. Deiniol, for whom the cathedral there is dedicated, as well as several churches of the region. Note particularly the triadic character of the musical phrasing. This tune was paired with the text, "Immortal, invisible, God only wise," in the English Hymnal (1906).

The hymn is by Walter Chalmers Smith, a Scottish Free Church minister, and appeared in his Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life, published in 1867, nearly 30 years after it was written. It is the only one of his voluminous oeuvre of poetry that survives as a hymn. Originally six verses in length, it was not a hymn of praise generally, but was concerned with the reading of Scripture specifically. Editorial alterations by Percy Dearmer for the 1906 English Hymnal resulted in the current flavor of the text as we know it today, and reduced the original six verses to four; there is an additional alteration for inclusive language in The Hymnal 1982. Some hymnals, such as the 2006 Lutheran Service Book, use a slightly different final verse, crafted from a different portion of Dearmer's edited text as opening phrase.

Updated: Jul 2022

Further reading:
History of Hymns - Commentary by C. Michael Hawn, UMC Discipleship Ministries
Glory to God: A Companion - Carl P. Daw, Westminster John Knox Press
Wikipedia - "Immortal, invisible, God only wise," with the six original verses
Music @ St. Mary's Episcopal (Phoenix) - Dr. Jeffrey Shy, Commentary on text and tune
Holy Hierarch Deiniol -  Dmitry Lapa, Commentary on St. Deiniol
Center for Church Music – ST DENIO

Final verse beginning 'Thou reignest in glory'

Final verse beginning 'Great Father of glory'

Descant verse (H82)

Thou reignest in glory, thou rulest in light,

thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;

all laud we would render: O help us to see

'tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

The Hymnal 1982

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