God requires that we assist the animals, when they need our help.
Each being (human or creature) has the same right of protection.
– St. Francis of Assisi
It took three countries and nearly seven centuries to create the hymn All Creatures of our God and King that we know and love today.
Italy, 1225: A year before his death, Italian friar St. Francis of Assisi penned the poem Cantico di fratre sole (Canticle of Brother Sun or Song of All Creatures). St. Francis, fittingly the patron saint of animals and the environment, exhibits his love of creation in the poem calling on “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” and “Mother Earth” to praise God. Considered one of the earliest works of Italian literature, this poem is the foundation of All Creatures of Our God and King.
Germany, 1623: The tune most often used for All Creatures first appeared in a Jesuit hymnal paired with a different text (Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr). Later, Ralph Vaughan Williams modernized the tune creating its current version. Seen first in The English Hymnal (1906), his rendition was set with Athelstan Riley’s text Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.
England, 1910: William H. Draper translated and paraphrased St. Francis’ poem into an English hymn for a children’s Pentecost (Whitsuntide) festival. In order for the text to fit Ralph Vaughan Williams’ version of the tune, Draper added the repeating phrases “Alleluia” and “O Praise Him” which are not part of St. Francis’ original poem. The seven stanzas of Draper’s hymn were published in the Public School Hymn Book (1919).
Today you won’t find all seven of Draper’s stanzas in modern hymnals. His sixth stanza, with its theme about death, is omitted and, in some hymnals, the fifth and seventh stanzas are combined into one. But despite some subtle variations between hymnals, all versions still echo the vivid descriptions of creation St. Francis penned in 1225, calling on everything to praise God.