Once in Royal David's City

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Once in Royal David's City
Derry St Columb's Cathedral North Vestibule Cecil Frances Alexander Memorial Window Detail Nativity 2013 09 17.jpg
Left light of the memorial window dedicated to Cecil F. Alexander in St Columb's Cathedral
TextCecil Frances Alexander
Based onLuke 2:4-7
Melody"Irby" by Henry Gauntlett
Henry John Gauntlett

Once in Royal David's City is a Christmas carol originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander. The carol was first published in 1848 in her hymnbook Hymns for Little Children. A year later, the English organist Henry John Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.[1] Alexander's husband was the Anglican clergyman William Alexander and upon his consecration she became a bishop's wife in 1867.[1] She is also remembered for her hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.


Since 1919, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King's College Chapel Cambridge has begun its Christmas Eve service, with Dr Arthur Henry Mann's arrangement of "Once in Royal David's City" as the Processional hymn.[1] Mann was organist at King's between 1876 and 1929.[2] In his arrangement, the first verse is sung by a boy chorister of the Choir of King's Chapel as a solo. The second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in the third verse. Excluding the first verse, the hymn is accompanied by the organ. According to the tradition of the King's College Choir, the soloist of this hymn is usually chosen on the day of the performance, when the choirmaster decides whose voice is the strongest on the day right before the broadcast.[3]

This carol was the first recording that the King's College Choir under Boris Ord made for EMI in 1948.[4] Among others who have recorded it are Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Chieftains, Daniel O'Donnell, The Seekers, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Petula Clark, Jethro Tull, Sinéad O'Connor and Sufjan Stevens, St. Paul's Choir School and most recently by the Irish group Celtic Woman in their album Voices of Angels.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Hymns and Carols of Christmas
  2. ^ Dictionary of Organs and Organists, Second Edition, 1921, G. A. Mate (London)
  3. ^ "What is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – and what is the order of service?". Classic FM. Retrieved 2018-12-27.
  4. ^ King's College Chapel, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Archived 2007-10-16 at the Wayback Machine

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