Christ I

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Christ I
Also known asAdvent Lyrics or Christ A
LanguageOld English
DateUnknown, possibly around 800
SeriesOld English Christ poems, along with Christ II and Christ III
Manuscript(s)Exeter Book, fo. 8a-14a
GenreReligious poem in 12 subsections
SubjectThe Advent of Christ

Christ I, also Christ A or (The) Advent Lyrics, is a collection of twelve anonymous Old English poems on the coming of the Lord, preserved in the Exeter Book. Claes Schaar suggests that it may have been written between the end of the 8th century and the beginning of the 9th century.[1]

The poem is assigned to a triad of Old English religious poems in the Exeter Book, known collectively as Christ. Christ comprises a total of 1664 lines and deals with Christ's Advent, Ascension and Last Judgment. It was originally thought to be one piece completed by a single author, but the poem is now broken up into three parts.

Exeter Book[edit]

Christ I can be found on fols. 8a-14a of the Exeter Book. The Exeter Book is a collection of Old English poetry containing 123 folios.[2] The book contains the items of the Cynewulf group, which is made up in part by Christ I. The collection also contains a number of other religious, allegorical, and category poems.[2]


The lyrics included within Christ I selection expand upon antiphons known as the “O Antiphons”, which receive their name because they all begin with the Latin interjection “O”. An antiphon is a verse from the Holy Scripture that is to be sung before and after the reading of a psalm (Otten 1). The verse selected for the antiphon is chosen to reflect the fundamental ideas presented during the psalm.[3] Seven of the antiphons in Christ I have come to be known as the “Seven Greater Antiphons” for their use in the Magnificat.[4] The opening interjections of the “Seven Greater Antiphons” include, "O Sapientia", "O Adonai", "O Radix Jesse", "O Clavis David", "O Oriens", "O Rex Gentium", and "O Emmanuel". The remainder of the antiphons used in Christ I had come to be included with the “Greater Antiphons”: “O Virgo virginum”, “O Gabriel”, “O Rex pacifice”, “O Mundi Domina”, and “O Hierusalem”.[5]


The foundation of the work derives from the topic of the Advent. The Advent, in its most general definition, is the time period leading up to the anniversary of the coming of Christ. Advent at that time, as it is today, would have been a period of spiritual and symbolic significance within the church. Followers, following the rules governed by the church, would often fast during these times. St. Gregory the Great (590-604CE) wrote a sermon on the second Sunday of Advent in a collection of his homilies.[6] With this evidence, it is understood that the Advent was celebrated as early as the time of Christ I’s composition and celebrated within the church. The lyrics, playing off the Latin antiphons, are poetry commenting on this period of symbolic preparation.


The selection known as Christ I is often referred to as being part of the collection of work known as “the Cynewulf group”.[1] This set of poems comprises four works by the author Cynewulf (Elene, Juliana, Christ II, and Fata Apostolorum)[1] and eight by other authors (Andreas and The Dream of the Rood from the Vercelli Book, and Christ I, Christ III, Guthlac A and B, The Phoenix, and Physiologus from the Exeter Book).[1] Although the Christ I poem is generally associated and analyzed alongside the works of Cynewulf, it is now considered to be an anonymous writing and its construction is unrelated to either of the other Christ poems.


The poem of Christ I is broken down into twelve smaller subsections of individual verse. Each subsection is introduced with a selection from a Latin antiphon, followed by lines of poetry in Old English. Sections I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII, and IX derive from the “Greater Antiphons”, while sections VII, X, XI, and XII do not. It is unknown if the author intended to use all of the selections from the “Great Antiphons”, but some scholars speculate that the antiphons not used, “O Sapientia”, “O Adonai”, and “O radix Jesse”, have been lost.[7] The order the antiphons used by the author in laying out the Advent Lyrics appears to have no predetermined structure and have not followed the pattern of the list used in observed in all other sources containing the list.

Interpretation of structure[edit]

The order of antiphons that the author uses for the lyrics imply that the poet was not concerned about any distinctions between antiphons, or the order that he had found them in his sources.[7] Upon analysis of the position of each poem, no rational order can be found, therefore it appears as though the order of each poem in the sequence is unimportant.[8]

Influence on other writers[edit]

J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by the following couplet from Christ I (lines 104-5), which inspired his portrayal of Middle-earth and his character Eärendil.[9]

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.


  1. ^ a b c d Schaar 1949, pp. 9.
  2. ^ a b Rumble 1998, pp. 285.
  3. ^ Otten 1907, pp. 1.
  4. ^ Henry 1911.
  5. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 8.
  6. ^ Mershman 1907.
  7. ^ a b Campbell 1959, pp. 9.
  8. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 11.
  9. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey (1977), Tolkien: A Biography, New York: Ballantine Books, "Reunion", pp. 72, 79, ISBN 0-04-928037-6


  • Campbell, Jackson J (1959). The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book. Princeton: Princeton UP.
  • Cook, Albert S (1909). "Introduction". In Cook, Albert S. (ed.). The Christ of Cynewulf (2nd ed.). Boston: Ginn and Company. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  • Henry, Hugh T. (1911). "O Antiphons". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 11. New York: The Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  • Mershman, Francis (1907). "Advent". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: The Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  • Otten, Joseph (1907). "Antiphon". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: The Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  • Rumble, Alexander R. (1998). "Exeter Book". In Szarmach, Paul E.; Tavormina, M T; Rosenthal, Joel T (eds.). Medieval England: an Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, Inc.
  • Schaar, Claes (1949). Critical Studies in the Cynewulf Group. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup.

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