Edward Shippen Barnes arranged the traditional French Christmas carol 'Les Anges dans nos Campagnes', by an unknown composer, to a tune called 'Gloria' to create the modern version of 'Angels We Have Heard on High.'
Bishop James Chadwick translated the words of 'Les Anges dans nos Campagnes', which were written anonymously, into English for the song that people know today as 'Angels We Have Heard on High.'
"Angels we have heard on high/Sweetly singing o'er the plains/And the mountains in reply/Echoing their joyous strains./Gloria, in excelsis Deo![Latin for: "Glory to God in the highest!"]/Gloria, in excelsis Deo!"
'Angels We Have Heard on High' tells the story of an event recorded in the Bible after Jesus Christ was born on the first Christmas: an angel appeared in the sky to announce Christ's birth, and shortly thereafter was joined by a huge amount of other angels singing out praises: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men'" (Luke 2:13-14). The phrase "Glory to God in the highest" is taken directly from the Bible and sung in Latin as "Gloria, in excelsis Deo!" in the song's chorus.
In medieval times, French shepherds had a Christmas Eve tradition of shouting "Gloria in excelsis Deo" to each other as they watched over their sheep flocks on their respective hills in southern France. That phrase is now famous as the chorus of 'Angels We Have Heard on High.'
People began to chant the phrase "Gloria in excelsis Deo" in Christmas Eve worship services as early as 130 A.D. Much later, in medieval times, a Latin chorale version may have inspired the traditional French Christmas carol 'Les Anges dans nos Campagnes,' which Edward Shippen Barnes used in the 1800s to arrange the first version of 'Angels We Have Heard on High'.
'Angels We Have Heard on High' was first published in English as part of an 1862 book called Crown of Jesus Music. But the version that has become popular worldwide was published later, in 1916, in the book Carols Old and Carols New.