Another Lorica: “Be Thou My Vision”

I’m still hoping to get back to my blogging break, but it seems I can’t resist writing one more thing.  In looking for recordings of St. Patrick’s Rune or “The Cry of the Deer”, which is part of the larger Lorica, I ran across a second Lorica, “Be Thou My Vision” sometimes attributed to St. Patrick and from that general era. [Image credit: a Roman lorica, photo by Matthias Kabel]

If you only have time to look at one of these videos, look at this one.  Roma Downey sings it in Irish then recites an unusual English translation:

Lyrics in modern Irish:

Bí Thusa ’mo shúile a Rí mhór na ndúil
Líon thusa mo bheatha mo chéadfaí ’s mo stuaim
Bí thusa i m’aigne gach oíche ’s gach lá
Im chodladh no im dhúiseacht, líon mé le do ghrá.
Bí thusa ’mo threorú i mbriathar ’s i mbeart
Fan thusa go deo liom is coinnigh mé ceart
Glac cúram mar Athair, is éist le mo ghuí
Is tabhair domsa áit cónaí istigh i do chroí.

The rest of the recordings I found have a distinct hymn quality.  I’ve posted the best of them.

Here it is from a BBC production in English with the lyrics on the screen, sung in the way only the British can make  “word” rhyme with “lord”:

And again with the Belfast Cathedral Youth Choir and a haunting flute arrangement:

If anyone isn’t tired of it in English yet, here is yet another version, this time a capella and sung by, wait for it,… Hutterites:

Now, finally we get down to the Irish version, from a young woman with a delightful Irish accent, but with a longish explanation at the beginning that could have been put in the written notes, but IMHO hearing her read the words is well worth wading through the rest. She reads the translations at 2:40, and sings at 4:10.

In English,

Be thou my vision Oh, Lord of my heart
Be all else but naught to me save that thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

In Irish:

be my eyes o king of creation
fill my life with understanding and patience
will you be my mind every night and every day
sleeping or awake fill me with your love
will you be my guidance in my words and my actions
stay with me forever and keep me on the right path
as my father take care of me, listen to my prayers
and give me a place to live in your heart

Surprisingly enough, this hymn is the number three hit of Anglicans who were asked what they would most like to take with them on a desert island.  Even more surprisingly, St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Lorica) was first.

There are other tunes for the song, but “Slane” is the most popular, named after Slane Hill where St. Patrick was said to have lit an Easter fire in 433 in defiance of druids.  The lyrics were written later, in the eighth century, in Old Irish by Dallan Forgaill  and used as a lorica (a prayer of protection) by the Irish monastic tradition for many centuries before being set to music. The most popular English translation was done in 1905 by Mary E. Byrne (from Old Irish) and then the song was translated from English back into modern Irish by Hugh Duggan.

The Old Irish starts out:

Rop tú mo baile, a Choimdiu cride:
ní ní nech aile acht Rí secht nime.
Rop tú mo scrútain i l-ló ’s i n-aidche;
rop tú ad-chëar im chotlud caidche.

To be continued…

[image: lorica segmentata photo by Matthias Kabel]


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