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Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
Birds of Paradise : Northumbrian poet Cynewulf paints a word-picture of heaven and the seraph-band that swoops and soars before the throne.
Birds of Paradise

Freely translated from the Old English of ‘Christ’, by Cynewulf. For a literal translation, see Anglo-Saxon Poetry.

Cynewulf (possibly the 8th century bishop Cynewulf of Lindisfarne) lets his raptures flow on the Seraphim, the angels described by Isaiah, Ezekiel and St John the Divine; the singing angels, who surround the throne of God in heaven.

See Isaiah 6:1-3

WHEREFORE the kindred of the Seraphim, quick to act, strengthened to authority, steadfast in the truth, rise up amidst the angel host in worship; how excellently the tireless throng sings! far and near reaches their voice, sonorous in its slow beauty.

They have the choicest office in the King’s service. This Christ granted them: that they may feast their eyes upon his presence, arrayed with the brightness of the sun, for ever and ever, praising the Mighty far and wide. With their wings they veil the face of the Lord Almighty, the everlasting King,* and they throng about the royal throne, eager to try which may swoop nearest our Saviour in their flight, within those peaceful courts.

Adoring the Adorable, in happy light they call out these words, glorifying the noble Author of all creation: “Holy art thou, holy! Prince of the high angels, truly Lord of Victory! Holy shalt thou ever be, King of Kings!”

* In the Liturgy of St James, we sing: “Before him go the choirs of Angels, with every rule and authority, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, veiling their sight and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Freely translated from the Old English of ‘Christ’, by Cynewulf. For a literal translation, see Anglo-Saxon Poetry.

‘Let the Bright Seraphim’

The solo and chorus ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ closes the Oratorio ‘Samson’, by George Frideric Handel, with words by Newburgh Hamilton. It is performed here by The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers.

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LET the bright seraphim in burning row,
Their loud, uplifted angel trumpets blow.
Let the cherubic host, in tuneful choirs,
Touch their immortal harps with golden wires.

Let their celestial concerts all unite,
Ever to sound his praise in endless blaze of light.

More like this

Cynewulf (7) Extracts from Literature (93) Lives of the Saints (96) Anglo-Saxon History (44) Angels (2) Northumbrian Enlightenment (30) Bible and Saints (111)

Picture: © Olaf Tausch, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0. View original
A Seraph high up in the Church of the Panagía Ekatontapylianí, on the Greek island of Paros. Similar figures may be seen in Agía Sophía in Constantinople; the two churches were built roughly two hundred years before Cynewulf was writing. In traditional Christian belief, at each church service the precincts of the ‘peaceful courts’ of heaven, described here by Cynewulf, expand to envelop the church where the liturgy is being served, so that for the duration of the service worshippers stand – if only we could see it – among the swooping, happy angels and their sonorous music.
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By Cynewulf
(8th century)

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