• 5 min
  • Osbern, transl. Stephen Macklow-Smith

Programme Note

When I was approached by Greenwich’s Church of St Alfege, to compose an anthem to mark their patron Saint’s milleneum (since his death in 1012), it was to Frances Shaw’s wonderful translation of Osbern’s Life of Alfege that I turned. The last paragraph sounded like an emotional and plaintive prayer to Alfege, referring to his terrible demise having been kidnapped by marauding Danes who then pelted him to death with animal bones – because Alfege would not give them Canterbury’s riches to secure his release. 

I would have loved to use all of Frances’s beautiful translation but it would have been too long for this purpose – so my classicist husband Stephen Macklow-Smith, translated these last few lines of the original text again and wrote a simpler but deeply plaintive poem inspired by it – making the words sound more like the kind of vernacular an ordinary person might use, when asking Alfege for his help, at straightened times. 

It seems there was once a Hymn to St Alfege but no record of the music or the words still exist. I have tried to add authenticity to my Hymn by using a fragment of plainsong (Kyrie Orbis Creator, Use of Salisbury), which would have been sung in Southern England around the time of Alfege’s death. I have set the first phrase of the original Latin text “Magni Regis, Magne miles;” to the plainsong, as an ostinato that runs throughout the piece. 

My thanks go to Stephen Dagg, Director of Music at St Alfege Church, the Church itself for commissioning this piece and to Frances Shaw for her inspiration and guidance with the text and its context. 

Roxanna Panufnik 11th January, 2012


Magni Regis, magne miles Elphege; Great Alfege, soldier of a great King; 

Alphege, great soldier
Who served a great King!
Your cloak was washed in the blood of Almighty God,
Hear now the prayers of your family who cry out to you. 

You defended us with your life, now intercede for us in death.
You vanquished the Prince of Darkness, fortified by your faith,
Now stand with us against him, and help us to victory.

You took pity on those who stoned you,
So take pity on those who seek your help,
So that victory comes to those who love you, rather than those who raged against you.

Defend those who serve you from the gates of death and hell,
Transport us to the gates of Paradise and the embrace of Christ,
Who lives and reigns with the eternal Father and the Co-Eternal Spirit,
The one, the only, the true God through the infinite ages of ages. 

©Stephen Macklow-Smith