Hail the day that sees Him rise
with ASCENSION, LLANFAIR
Text. “Hail the day that sees Him rise,” a hymn for Ascension by Charles Wesley, was first published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), in ten stanzas of four lines, without music (Fig. 1). The hymn naturally takes its cue from accounts of the Ascension in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:6-11. The second and third stanzas recall Psalm 24. Stanza six echoes the promise of John 14:2-3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself” (ESV).
This hymn was part of a cycle of hymns for the church year, beginning with Christmas (“Hark how all the welkin rings”), then Epiphany (“Sons of men, behold from far”), Resurrection (“Christ the Lord is ris’n today”), Ascension (“Hail the day that sees Him rise”), and Whitsunday/Pentecost (“Granted is the Saviour’s prayer”).
An altered version of the text with some influence came from Thomas Cotterill, A Selection of Psalms and Hymns, 9th ed. (1820 | Fig. 2). Note especially the changes in the first stanza and the first line of the second, where he replaced “pompous” with “glorious.” This legacy of this version can be seen, for example, in The English Hymnal (1906 | Fig. 5).
Tune 1. In the Wesley collection Hymns on the Great Festivals (1746 | Fig. 3), this text was set to the tune ASCENSION, which had been composed for the Wesleys by John Frederick Lampe (ca. 1703-1751). This pairing was repeated in the Wesleys’ subsequent tune books in 1761 and 1781. Lampe was a good friend of the Wesleys. His melodic style shows influences from both the Moravian hymn singing that the Wesleys admired and the popular style of Lampe’s contemporary colleague G.F. Handel. This tune by Lampe has not endured, but some others were still in print well into the 20th century.
Tune 2. In modern hymnals, the tune most commonly associated with this text is LLANFAIR (pronounced hlan-vire), which was first printed in John Parry’s Peroriaeth Hyfryd (1837) under the name BETHEL (Fig. 4). This 1837 edition was given in four parts, melody in the third part, arranged by J.R. Henllan (John Roberts of Henllan). The authorship has been assigned to Robert Williams, based on the testimony of a manuscript that is now lost:
It was usually described simply as “Welsh Tune” and was only ascribed to Robert Williams in an article by Llewelyn Jones, Llanfechell, in the journal Y Cerddor (The Musician) in 1896, He claimed to have the manuscript of the tune, dated July 14, 1817, in his possession as late as 1920. It has been impossible to trace this since his death, though there have been rumors of its whereabouts.
The change of name from BETHEL to LLANFAIR is not well documented. LLANFAIR might refer to the village Llanfair-Ynghornwy in Anglesey, Wales, near where Robert Williams was born. LLANFAIR was first paired with “Hail the day that sees him rise” in The English Hymnal (1906 | Fig. 5).
LLANFAIR works well with other exuberant texts, including the Resurrection hymns “Christ the Lord is risen today” and “Jesus Christ is risen today,” and a hymn by Henry Francis Lyte, “Praise the Lord, His glories show,” among others.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
26 June 2018
Robin Leaver, “Lampe’s Tunes,” Hymns on the Great Festivals, ed. S.T. Kimbrough and Charles A. Green (Madison, NJ: Charles Wesley Society, 1996), p. 34.
Geoffrey Wainwright & Alan Luff, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3A (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), p. 214.
LLANFAIR at Hymnary.org:
“Hail the day that sees him rise” at Hymnary.org:
Neil Dixon, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: