Before the Reformation
English hymnody is as old as English poetry itself. The first known English poem is the hymn by Caedmon*, the lay helper at Whitby Abbey, dated between ca. 657 and 680. According to Bede* in his Historia Gentis Anglorum Ecclesiastica, Caedmon thought himself unable to sing but was visited by an angel who told him to sing of the Creation, whereupon he composed the hymn in Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse beginning ‘Nu sculon hergan | heafonrices Weard’ (‘Now praise we the guardian of heaven’). Caedmon took his hymn to the abbess Hilda, but it is not known if it was sung by the community. Bruce Mitchell has suggested that the practice of writing Anglo-Saxon religious...
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