Charles Villiers Stanford's Gifts by Ken Myers

From Heavenly Harmony

Charles Villiers Stanford's Gifts

by Ken Myers

If you are fortunate enough to attend a church that still sings from a hymnal—an increasingly rare circumstance—you may have had the pleasure of singing the ancient text that begins, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity." And if you've been paying attention, you know that the text of this triumphant hymn is attributed to St. Patrick.

According to an eleventh-century manuscript, St. Patrick composed the text as "a lorica [a prayer of protection; Latin for 'body armor'] of faith for the protection of body and soul against demons and man and vices." Tradition has it that St. Patrick and a group of fellow missionaries were making their way to a site in County Meath to preach the gospel, and that they knew in advance of potential violent opposition by forces loyal to the local Druid priests. Hence the need for spiritual armor. For this reason, the hymn is commonly known as "St. Patrick's Breastplate." In 1889, it was translated from Old Irish into modern English by Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander (1818–1895), the wife of a prominent Irish bishop.


Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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