Hymn to St Bega (2009)

September 2nd, 2018

Hymn to St Bega (2009)

A setting of anonnymous Medieval poem, with excerpts of Browning and Davies


C.Ten, Ten, Ten, Bar

fp. 30 May 2009; Orlando Consort, Sedbergh School, Sedbergh, Cumbria, UK

Score is available to purchase here.


Hymn to St Bega is a setting of an anonymous Dark Age text found in the church of St Bega on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria. The poem describes the life of the eponymous saint who fled pagan Ireland and an enforced marriage to land on the Cumbrian coast (then a separate British kingdom) and devote her life to Christ. Although essentially a provincial and minor saint, Bega has been much revered in Cumbria and many churches, villages and towns are named in her honour (including St Bees, the alleged destination of her arrival).

My work takes the text in two forms, the original Latin and a modern English translation and tells the story using both. The combination of these two languages may at first seem spurious, but the idea of two different tongues (one corporate, one vernacular) competing and not necessarily ever reconciling is much like I imagine the spread of Christianity during this period, with an organic amalgamation of two very different faith systems rising from this competition. The main narrative thrust of the work is told in English with Latin often chosen for both dramatic and reflective moments.

Whilst setting the text I became interested in adding extra material that would reinforce the legend of Bega and I decided to do this using ‘troped’ material that would reflect Bega-esque qualities in women throughout history. The first trope is an English translation of an excerpt from Regina Coeli, the Marian Antiphon; the second is short extract regarding Queen Elizabeth I; the third is regarding the Georgian proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote the seminal Vindication on the Rights of Women. Though these tropes may be seen to disrupt the flow of the initial text, I feel they highlight aspects of the Bega story which can be seen throughout history in strong women who make important decisions, just like Bega did in a much more hostile time.


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