On Air Now
The Full Works Concert with Jane Jones 8pm - 10pm
3 December 2019, 15:12
‘Away in a Manger’ is an enduring favourite at Christmas time and it’s one of the most well known carols there is – but what are the lyrics, and where did the song come from?
‘Away in a Manger’ was first published in the late nineteenth century – but the origins of the festive favourite have been disputed.
Up until the twentieth century, it was believed the carol was the work of Martin Luther – a German priest – which led to the carol being named ‘Luther’s Cradle Song’.
But historians have debunked this belief, as none of Luther’s writings mentioned the song and no German text for the carol has been found from earlier than 1934.
It’s now believed the carol was first published in the Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families, which was published in 1885.
Indeed, the Hymnology Archive points out that the song was likely written for Martin Luther’s birth, then misleadingly attributed to Luther himself, “even though this song is not to be found in any of Luther’s hymn collections, nor it is known to have existed in any form in the German language”.
The most well-known melody for the festive song is thought to have originally been composed by Jonathan Spilman in 1837, before being adapted in 1895 by William Kirkpatrick.
Another popular version of the melody is by James Murray and was first published in 1887’s Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love thee, lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my bedside till morning is nigh.
Be near me, lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.