Vexilla Regis

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Author: Venantius Fortunatus, 569.

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.

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Text and translations

Latin.png Latin text

Vexilla Regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
[quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.]1

Confixa clavis viscera
tendens manus, vestigia,
redemptionis gratia
hic immolata est hostia.

[Quo vulneratus insuper
mucrone diro lanceae,]2
ut nos lavaret crimine,
manavit unda et sanguine.

Impleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine,
dicendo nationibus:
regnavit a ligno Deus.

Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata Regis purpura,
electa digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere.

Beata, cuius brachiis
pretium pependit saeculi:
statera facta corporis,
[praedam tulitque tartari.]3

Fundis aroma cortice,
vincis sapore nectare,
iucunda fructu fertili
plaudis triumpho nobili.

Salve, ara, salve, victima,
de passionis gloria,
qua vita mortem pertulit
et morte vitam reddidit.

O Crux ave, spes unica,
hoc Passionis tempore! [viz. in hac triumphi gloria!]
piis adauge gratiam,
reisque dele crimina.

Te, fons salutis Trinitas,
collaudet omnis spiritus:
[quos per Crucis mysterium
salvas, fove per saecula.]4 Amen.

English.png English translation

Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross's mystery:
[upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.]


[Who, wounded with a direful spear,
did purposely to wash us clear]
from stain of sin, pour out a flood
of precious water mixed with blood.

That which the prophet-king of old
hath in mysterious verse foretold,
is now accomplished, whilst we see
God ruling the nations from a Tree.

O lovely and refulgent Tree,
adorned with purpled majesty;
culled from a worthy stock, to bear
those limbs which sanctified were.

Blest Tree, whose happy branches bore
the wealth that did the world restore;
the beam that did that Body weigh
[which raised up Hell's expected prey.]



Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
In the mournful Passion-time; [viz. on this triumphant day]
grant to the just increase of grace,
and every sinner's crimes efface.

Blest Trinity, salvation's spring
may every soul Thy praises sing;
[to those Thou grantest conquest by

English.png English translation

The Royal Banner forward goes,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear his wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth's Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.


Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life's very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

Translation by "The Psalter of Sarum": London, 1852.

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.

German.png German translation

Des Königs Banner wallt hervor,
hell leuchtend strahlt das Kreuz empor,
wo unser Menschheit Stamm und Stolz
gefesselt hängt am Marterholz.

O heil’ges Kreuz, sei uns gegrüßt!
Du unsere einz’ge Hoffnung bist;
den Frommen mehr’ die Heiligkeit,
den Schuld’gen schenk’ das Gnadenkleid.

Dir höchster Gott, Dreieinigkeit,
sei aller Geister Lob geweiht;
die du am Kreuz von Schuld befreit,
regiere sie in Ewigkeit.

Spanish.png Spanish translation

Las banderas del Rey avanzan:
refulge el misterio de la Cruz.

Salve, oh Cruz, nuestra única esperanza.
En este tiempo de pasión
aumenta la justicia de los virtuosos
y concédeles el perdón a los reos.

English.png English translation

1. The royal banners forward go,
the cross shines forth in mystic glow;
where he in flesh, our flesh who made,
our sentence bore, our ransom paid.

2. There whilst he hung, his sacred side
by soldier's spear was opened wide,
to cleanse us in the precious flood
of water mingled with his blood.

3. Fulfilled is now what David told
in true prophetic song of old,
how God the heathen's king should be;
for God is reigning from the tree.

4. O tree of glory, tree most fair,
ordained those holy limbs to bear,
how bright in purple robe it stood,
the purple of a Saviour's blood!

5. Upon its arms, like balance true,
he weighed the price for sinners due,
the price which none but he could pay:
and spoiled the spoiler of his prey.

6. To thee, eternal Three in One,
let homage meet by all be done,
as by the cross thou dost restore,
so rule and guide us evermore. Amen.
Translation by J M Neale

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