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While shepherds watched heir flocks by night. (Cornish Gallery Hymn)


Nahum Tate, 1700 it first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Psalter, 1702.


While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
   All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
   And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread
   Had seized their troubled mind.
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
   To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day
   Is born of David’s line
A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord,
   And this shall be the sign.

“The heavenly Babe you there shall find
   To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
   And in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
   Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
   Who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high,
   And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
  Begin and never cease!”


While Shepherds Watched - Cornish Gallery Hymn

Created 08-Nov-13

"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" (also known as "Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks," "While Shepherds Watched" or "The Vision of the Shepherds") is attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and Poet Laureate, Nahum Tate.


The exact date of Tate's composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady's 1700 supplement to their Psalter, New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. It is written in common metre and based on the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14, although the gospel's "peace on earth to men of good will" is modified to the more encompassing "goodwill henceforth from heaven to men". It is the only one of the sixteen works in the 1700 supplement to still be sung today.

Textual variants

The title in the supplement was "Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour", but it has since become known chiefly by its opening line. In Tate's original it appeared as "Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" Most modern hymn books use "while".

A nineteenth century version by G.W. Fink was "While humble shepherds watched their flocks"


The hymn tune Cranbrook was written for the words in 1805 by Canterbury shoe-maker Thomas Clark and named after the local village of Cranbrook. It is now better known in the UK as the tune of On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at.

It was set to music in 1812 in Harmonia Sacra. David Weyman's adaptation of "Christmas", taken from an aria in the 1728 opera Siroe by George Frideric Handel was arranged by Lowell Mason in 1821, and it is now this version which is most commonly used in the USA. In the United Kingdom and Canada the standard is the alternative arrangement using the music "Winchester Old", originally from Este's psalter, the Whole Book of Psalmes, from 1592 but arranged by William Henry Monk sometime before 1874. It has been set to numerous other tunes, most commonly "Martyrdom", written by Hugh Wilson in 1800 but with an arrangement by Ralph E. Hudson from around 1885, and "Shackelford" by Frederick Henry Cheeswright from 1889.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

While shepherds watched heir flocks by night. - (Cranbrook) - Thomas Clark