This hymn was written by a German author whose name has been lost in time. It first appeared in a Roman Catholic hymnal, Catholisches Gesangbuch in 1828. That hymnal originated in Wurzburg, on the Main River near Frankfurt. That is lovely country, with hills and streams. It’s no wonder that a poet, seeing that beauty, would be inspired to write a hymn praising God for natural wonders.
But the hymn celebrates more than natural wonders. It calls us to praise God whether we are at work or at prayer––whether in the night or the day–– even when faced with the powers of darkness, which lose their power when subjected to praise to God. It calls us to praise God “thro’ all the ages long.”
The hymn was translated from German into English by Edward Caswell (1814-1878), a Roman Catholic priest from England. Caswell was the son of an Anglican clergyman, and was himself ordained as an Anglican. He converted to Catholicism in 1847, prior to translating this hymn in 1854.
In addition to this hymn, which he translated from German, Caswell translated a number of hymns from Latin into English––the best known being “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.”
“When Morning Gilds the Skies” was originally 28 stanzas, but most hymnals today include only four.
The tune, “Laudes Domini” (“Praise to the Lord”), was composed by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896), an outstanding English organist and choirmaster who was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1892 in honor of his musical contributions.
The hymn was first sung with Barnby’s tune in 1868 in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan