Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.
The hymn has, thus, a strong connection with the Cross and is fittingly sung at Vespers from Passion Sunday to Holy Thursday and on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The hymn was also formerly sung on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the repository to the altar. The text given below is the full text of Fortunatus' hymn, but verses 2, 4, and 7 are omitted when the hymn is used liturgically. The last two verses which form the concluding doxology are not by Fortunatus, but is rather the work of some later poet.
The Latin text below is from Analecta Hymnica. Translation to English by Walter Kirkham Blount (d. 1717). This translation, which is considered the best ever done of Vexilla Regis, appeared in his Office of Holy Week (Paris, 1670).
View the Wikipedia article on Vexilla regis.
Settings by composer
Verse 9 "O crux, ave" only
- Anonymous (19c?) SATB
- Antoine Brumel a 4
- Carlotta Ferrari SATB
- Juan Ginés Pérez a 4
- Cristóbal de Morales a 5
- Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina a 4
- Giaches de Wert SAATB (NB. The text is different from the one given below).
Text and translations
Vexilla Regis prodeunt;
Abroad the regal banners fly,
The Royal Banner forward goes,
Changes made by Pope Urban VIII in 1632 to the Roman Breviary:
1 qua vita mortem pertulit, / et morte vitam protulit
2 Quae vulnerata lanceae / mucrone diro criminum
3 tulitque praedam tartari.
4 quibus Crucis victoriam / largiris, adde praemium.
Des Königs Banner wallt hervor,
Las banderas del Rey avanzan: