Vexilla Regis Prodeunt
VEXILLA REGIS PRODEUNT
A Latin hymn by Venantius fortunatus (d. c. 610) celebrating the mystery of Christ triumphant on the cross. The original hymn consisted of eight stanzas, the first
four describing Christ's Crucifixion; the second four devoted to the cross itself. A frequently quoted line in the third stanza, "Regnavit a ligno Deus," is from Ps 95.10, following a reading well known in the early Church. The exceptionally beautiful plainsong melody has also been attributed to Fortunatus himself. The Vexilla Regis is further distinguished by the circumstances of its composition. Emperor justin ii sent to Queen Radegunda a relic of the true cross for her convent in Poitiers. Processions from Tours and Poitiers converging at Migné accompanied the envoys from Constantinople back to Poitiers with the relic, singing the Vexilla Regis for the first time on Nov. 19, 569.
Until the reform of the Holy Week liturgies by Pius XII in 1955, this hymn was assigned as a processional hymn for Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament was brought from the Altar of Repose. In the Divine Office, this hymn was historically prescribed as a Vesper hymn during Passiontide and for the feast of Triumph of the Cross. The hymn, modified for liturgical use, dropped the second strophe and has two new stanzas (O crux ave and a doxology) in place of the original seventh and eighth.
Bibliography: Analecta hymnica 50 (1907) 74–75. j. julian, ed., A Dictionary of Hymnology (New York 1957). a. s. walpole, ed., Early Latin Hymns (Cambridge, Eng. 1922) 173–177. b. m. peebles, "Fortunatus, Poet of the Holy Cross," American Church Monthly 38 (1935) 152–166. j. szÖvÉrffy, Die Annalen der lateinischen Hymnendichtung (Berlin 1964–65) 1:135–137.
[m. i. j. rousseau]