Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: John Francis Wade

August 16th, 2013

On this day in 1786, John Francis Wade died in Douai, France. He may be best known as the author of the reverential carol-hymn Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful). A Catholic laymen, Wade was forced to leave England for Duoai, France during the 1745 Jacobean rebellion because of continued persecution of Catholics.

Duoai was a medieval fortress town with a English college that was founded to combat the errors associated with the Reformation. English Catholics were welcomed there since the reign of Elizabeth I. The college curriculum was religious in scope, especially suited for the education of Catholic clergy, and for which the preservation of Catholicism in England was a prime objective. It also was an ideal haven for Wade since he taught music for children and copied plainchant (Gregorian chant) and hymn manuscripts for private use.

But Wade’s miniature masterpiece Adeste Fideles was composed sometime between 1740 and 1743. The Latin lyrics were published in 1760 in Evening Offices of the Church, and the melody and lyrics were printed together in An Essay on the Church Plain Chant (London, 1782).

In 1852 the Rev. Frederick Oakeley, an English clergyman who became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church, saw his English translation O Come All Ye Faithful of Wade’s hymn published, although he had translated the Latin text eleven years earlier. A William Thomas Brooke may have also had a hand translating some of the hymns verses.

Adeste Fideles has also been referred to as The Portuguese Hymn, because it was believed for a time to have been first sung by the famous choir of the Portuguese Chapel in London. This would not have been an unlikely scenario, as Wade was known to have corresponded with prominent Catholic musicians of the foreign embassy chapels there, including Thomas Arne, the highly respected English composer.

John Francis Wade is believed to have died in Duoai. His obituary read: Mr. John Francis Wade, a Layman, aged 75, with whose beautiful Manuscript Books our Chapels as well as private Families abound, in writing which, and teaching the Latin and Church Song he chiefly spent.

To which it should be added: Amen!

The Portuguese Hymn  (Adeste Fidelis)

The Portuguese Hymn
(Adeste Fidelis)