Why ‘Jerusalem’ is played for winning English athletes at the Commonwealth Games
2 August 2022, 12:48 | Updated: 2 August 2022, 16:48
Hubert Parry’s hymn rings out as English athletes take to the podium to collect their gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Here’s why...
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The 2022 Commonwealth Games are well underway in Birmingham, and English athletes have been scoring medals left, right and centre.
Alex Yee won the first gold medal of the Games, taking first place for England in the men’s triathlon, with further prime podium positions following for Team England in the gymnastics arena, Dame Laura Kenny in the velodrome, Ben Proud in the swimming pool, and plenty more.
But keen-eared viewers may have noticed that, in place of the expected anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ for English podium wins, the Commonwealth Games are instead playing Hubert Parry’s rousing, anthemic hymn ‘Jerusalem’.
Jerusalem, from St Paul's Cathedral in London
What are the national anthems for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
‘God Save the Queen’ is still the national anthem for the United Kingdom, and is used for Team GB wins at sporting events such as the Olympics. However, since the four nations of the UK compete separately at the Commonwealth Games, each country’s win comes with their own individual anthem.
For Scotland, ‘Flower of Scotland’ is played; for Wales, it’s ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, or ‘Land of My Fathers’, and for Northern Ireland wins, there’s ‘Londonderry Air’, the melody to which is best known as ‘Danny Boy’.
For England, Hubert Parry’s 1916 hymn ‘Jerusalem’ is played.
Why is ‘Jerusalem’ played as England’s national anthem?
England doesn’t have its own official national anthem, and several popular British hymns are in the runnings, most commonly ‘Jerusalem’, ‘God Save the Queen’, and Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
This is why you might hear ‘God Save the Queen’ at the opening of an England football game, but ‘Jerusalem’ ahead of a cricket match.
At the Commonwealth Games, however, Team England decided to put the question out to the public. In a 2010 poll, voters chose between the three potential anthems to put ‘Jerusalem’ in first place with 52 percent of the vote, followed by ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with 32 percent and ‘God Save the Queen’ with 12 percent.
Who wrote ‘Jerusalem’?
The lyrics to ‘Jerusalem’ come from an 1808 poem by William Blake, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’, inspired by the legend that Jesus may have once visited Glastonbury, in Somerset.
Hubert Parry turned the poem’s four verses into a melody, which he titled ‘Jerusalem’, in 1916. King George V was monarch at the time and, as legend has it, remarked that he even preferred Parry’s melody to the actual national anthem for Britain.
Today, the hymn is best known in its 1922 orchestration by Edward Elgar, written in tribute to Parry who had died four years earlier in 1918. Quite fittingly, Elgar’s orchestration is performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, 100 years after its premiere to celebrate English wins at this year’s Commonwealth Games, which take place in Birmingham – a mere 24 miles from the composer’s birthplace in Worcester.