Il Cantico del Frate Sole

translated as
All creatures of our God and King



Text: Sources. Giovanni di Bernadone (c. 1181-1226), nicknamed ‘Francesco’ by his father, was raised in a wealthy household, but through several personal experiences he came to desire a life of poverty, charity, and discipleship. He attracted a following of sympathetic Christians in the area of Assisi, Italy. On or around September 14, 1224, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, he had a vision and received a phenomenon known as the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. This and a problem with his eye led him to seek medical assistance, eventually returning to a small chapel in Assisi known as the Porziuncola, where he spent the remainder of his days. Il Cantico del Frate Sole (“The canticle of the brother sun”), as it is often called, was written there over several months as he prepared for death.

One of the oldest surviving manuscripts is held at Biblioteca Communale Fondo Antico San Francesco, Assisi (Codex 338, fols. 33r-34r | Fig. 1), dated c. 1300. The text is a very early example of the Umbrian Italian dialect. Assisi is considered to be the first Italian poet. He felt that people should communicate with God in their own language, versus the Latin that was the literary language of the Church. Assisi is also known for his love of nature. Among Catholics, he is the patron saint of animals. This poem thanks God for various elements and creatures of nature.

The Italian is transcribed here in an edition by Paul Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908 | Fig. 2), pp. 304-305. The literal English translation shown here is by Paschal Robinson, from The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi (Philadelphia: Dolphin Press, 1906 | Fig. 3), pp. 152-153.

Fig. 1. Codex 338, fols. 33r-34r, (composite), Biblioteca Communale Fondo Antico San Francesco, Assisi. Image ©1999 Stefan Diller Wuerzburg ( Used by permission.

Fig. 2. Paul Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), pp. 304-305.

Fig. 3. Paschal Robinson, The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi (Philadelphia: Dolphin Press, 1906), pp. 152-153.

Text: Versification. In the related English hymn by William Draper (1855-1933), the creatures are called to offer praise, whereas in the original Italian, the writer praises God for his creation. Draper wrote “All creatures of our God and King” for a children’s Whitsuntide (Pentecost) procession when he was vicar of Adel. It was first published in The Public School Hymn Book (1919 | Fig. 4) set to the same arrangement of LASST UNS ERFREUEN by Ralph Vaugan Williams (1872-1958) that had appeared in The English Hymnal (1906), where it was originally set to “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” (no. 519) by John A. Riley (1858-1945).

Fig. 4. The Public School Hymn Book with Tunes (London: Novello, 1919), no. 79.

Tune. The tune universally associated with “All creatures” is LASST UNS ERFREUEN (“Let us rejoice”), from an Easter hymn first published in Ausserlesene, Catholische, Geistliche Kirchengesäng (Cöln: Peter von Brachel, 1623). This collection is apparently lost, but it was studied in detail by Wilhelm Bäumker for his comprehensive collection of Catholic hymn melodies, Das Katholische Deutsche Kirchenlied, vol. 1 (1886 | Fig. 5), pp. 561-62. In this setting, an alleluia follows each phrase, but in a Jesuit collection published only two years later, Catholische Kirchen Gesäng (Cöln: Peter von Brachel, 1625 | Fig. 6), the text is in couplets followed by alleluias in pairs. Both versions have a long publication history.

Fig. 5. Wilhelm Bäumker, Das Katholische Deutsche Kirchenlied, vol . 1 (1886), pp. 561-62.

Fig. 6. Catholische Kirchen Gesäng (Cöln: Peter von Brachel, 1625).

In an article for the Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 150 (Jan. 1981), pp. 194-200, John Wilson asserted that Ralph Vaughan Williams based his arrangement on a copy of LASST UNS ERFREUEN printed in Das Deutsche Geistliche Lied (Berlin, 1895), edited by Heinrich Reimann. This collection was consulted by the editors of The English Hymnal, and it uses the 1625 version of this tune.

LASST UNS ERFREUEN may have been based on or inspired by the French tune for Psalm 36 (GENEVAN 36), attributed to Matthäus Greiter (c. 1494-1550), first published in 1525 in the third part of the Strasburg Kirchenampt, then set to a German paraphrase of Psalm 119 in Psalmen gebett und Kirchenübung (1526 | Fig. 7), but popularized through the French psalters, including the first, Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant (Strasbourg, 1539 | Fig. 8), and adopted into English psalters as Psalm 113 (OLD 113TH). The main similarity between this and LASST UNS EFREUEN is in the way both melodies start with rising lines from the lower tonic note, then jump to descending figures from the upper tonic, settling on the dominant.

Fig. 7. Psalmen gebett und Kirchenübung (Strasburg, 1526), reprinted in Pierre Pidoux, Le Psautier Huguenot, vol. 1 (Baerenreiter, 1962), p. 256.

Fig. 8. Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant (Strasbourg, 1539), reprinted in Richard Terry, Calvin’s First Psalter (London : E. Benn, 1932).

for Hymnology Archive
9 July 2018
rev. 22 October 2018

Related Resources:

Johannes Zahn, Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder (1893), vol. 5, p. 101 (no. 8303); vol. 6, pp. 6-7.

Pierre Pidoux, Le Psautier Huguenot, vol. 1 (Baerenreiter, 1962), pp. 44-45, 256.

John Wilson, “The tune ‘Lasst uns erfreuen’ as we know it,” HSGBI Bulletin, no. 150 (Jan. 1981), pp. 194-200. Art & Religion in Italy:

“All creatures of our God and King” at

J.R. Watson, “Cantico di frate sole,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

J.R. Watson, “All creatures of our God and King,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: