Would You Believe…

guardian-angel

Would you believe that this is absolutely the most popular post on Glory to God for All Things? I mean, it has about 15,000 views. The comments are quite interesting, including a comment from a direct descendant of Mother Goose. To read the comments, go here.

This delightful old English prayer said by children and their parents at bedtime has long ago been shortened to only its last verse. There is more (as I was taught):

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,

Bless the bed that I lie on.

The are four corners to my bed,

Four angels round my head,

One to watch, and one to pray,

And two to bear my soul away.

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

If you know more of the tradition of this prayer please share it.

21 Responses to “Would You Believe…”

  1. Steve Says:

    Four angels Father, that is indeed very many!

  2. Moses Says:

    A beautiful prayer… I never heard of it! How old exactly would you say the prayer is Father?

  3. Robert Says:

    popularity is an indicator…what it means is probably entirely another subject…

  4. Lana Says:

    A priest once told me about a book that Mother Alexandra (who was a Romanian princess) founder and abbess of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in PA wrote about guardian angels, “The Holy Angels”. I have not read the book yet but have read excerpts from it. My daughter sleeps with a small icon of a guardian angel (which was given to her when she was baptized) under her pillow every night🙂 She has for the past 8 years and travels with it, too🙂

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Part of the popularity is governed by the fact that if you google the subject, this post is about the firs thing that comes up…

    How old the prayer is, I do not know, but it goes back at least to pre-Reformation times in England and probably the Netherlands.

    One explanation of all this is the fascination with angels, which seems to be a “safe” way to approach some subjects that avoid the problem of “Church”. Thus even new age folks have an interest in angels. Poor things, if only they knew the Church of the angels.

  6. luciasclay Says:

    I never knew the expanded form of that prayer. I’d always heard just the 4 last lines.

  7. Monomakh Says:

    This was a very popular prayer in families in the English countryside. I remember reading in one of G.M. Trevelyan’s books how certain peasants in remote parts of Cheshire or Lancashire prayed in a dialect where old english words and latin expressions mingled. It most certainly harks back to the Celtic or Anglo-Saxon Church. It reminds me, however remotely, of the beautiful Book of Kells.

  8. zoe Says:

    I never learned this prayer when I was a child being raised by parents who converted to Methodist (Protestant) Religion from Roman Catholic Religion before we (children) were born. I will not blame the lack of knowledge about this prayer on my parents since they can only pass to their children the teachings that they themselves learned. I can not blame this also on the Methodist Church since Our church attendance were infrequent because we lived in remote area where there were no churches (catholic or protestant).
    We only attended church (when I was at age 4 and 10) during holidays or on special visits to aunts/uncles who live in town where churches are available.
    However, the painting of the Guardian angel hovering behind the two children while crossing a wooden bridge was a great comfort to me, as a child. My parents has this picture hanging on our wall. My Guardian Angel had been very patient with me, for I’m just now recognizing and thanking him for everything that he has done for me through the Great Mercies and Mysteries of God. Orthodoxy brought to my remembrance that Jesus Christ Himself teaches us about Angels in the New Testament.
    No, I did not learn the beauty and the rhyme of the prayer which invokes God’s compassion, mercy and protection but I’ve seen the visual equivalent of the same prayer. Thank you, Father and God Bless us all

  9. Steve Says:

    Father,

    The return of the Lord proper (Adonai Eloheinu Echad) always “underwrites” the eternal covenant with Israel.

    I couldn’t help but notice, that on one particular family icon, all the New Testament events in the life of the Messiah (and therefore the Liturgical life of the Church) are depicted, save the crucifixion.

    Instead, the Messiah is portrayed as rising above two neatly split halves of Old Testament (“scrolls”), themselves arranged in the form of a cross.

    The return of the Lord proper (Adonai Eloheinu Echad) always “underwrites” the eternal covenant with Israel.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Steve,

    I’m not sure what this has to do with angels.

    It’s also necessary, I think, where the issue of Israel is also politically charged, to define terms. Who, precisely is Israel? I do not think it sufficient to simply repeat the American Evangelical political hermeneutic. There’s much more to be said. But it needs to be said on a more appropriate thread.

  11. Steve Says:

    Father,

    Redefining Israel is the precise point I wished to make. It seemed appropriate to blog this under “would you believe”…

    Christ in our midst!

  12. frmilovan Says:

    Father,

    This is pretty interesting, as far as stats go, since popular posts tend to be ones that deal with controversial issues. Granted, your posts rarely (if ever) deal with controversy. However, in light of all your many thought provoking posts, to have this simple prayer for children be the most popular is miraculous enough, I think, that it is worthy of the title “Would You Believe…”

    For the record, I wouldn’t in a million years.

  13. Margaret Says:

    Perhaps part of the popularity is the accompanying picture. This picture accompanied me through a tumultuous childhood, including the sudden death of my only sister while we were both young. This Picture hung on my wall or was always close by for some reason(!) When I look at this picture I am reminded that our guardian angels were with us then and they are with us now. Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  14. Mary Says:

    The last part of that prayer is probably the first prayer I learned as a young child. Since my heritage is English/Scots-Irish, I guess that fits. I also loved that painting as a child, though I can’t remember if it was in our home, or perhaps it was in a Bible or other book. Whichever, I’ve always loved it.

  15. Damaris Says:

    Does anyone know if this prayer is related to the beautiful Englebert Humperdinck song, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” from “Hansel and Gretel”? The words aren’t exactly the same, but the two are similar.

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    Related, I suspect. There is also a Dutch version and perhaps others.

  17. PD Says:

    Oddly enough, the last four lines also showed up in the song “Enter Sandman” by the heavy metal band Metallica. That record sold in the multiples of millions…

  18. Matthew Francis Says:

    Hi Father,

    I learned the prayer as you did. My wife, learned it with the wording:

    “Now I lay me down to sleep/
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
    Angels guard me through the night/
    Keep me safe ’til morning light.”

  19. Joel Watson Says:

    OH but you left out the “God blesses!” This is the prayer I was taught from as early as I can remember. At the end, I prayed “God bless Mama and Daddy, Nanny and Grumps…” and a long long list I still pray, but now realize that most on my list are now round the throne praying for us. Thank you for letting me see it again! By the way, I found comfort, even as a child, that even if I died that night, no matter what, all would be well because God would have me right there! It never scared me nor did I ever have a fear of dying from it!

  20. Joel Watson Says:

    Just remembered….. “I pray Thee Lord my soul to take,
    If I should live for other days,
    I pray Thee Lord to Guide my ways…
    Then I did the “God blesses”

    Just reading many of your posts again. Thank you.

  21. Nadine Alldridge Says:

    Someone, although I do not remember the composer, used that poem. It’s often sung at senior recitals at Universities. I remember it this way:

    Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
    Bless the bed that I lie on.
    Before I lay me down to sleep
    I give my soul for Christ to keep.

    Four angels round my bed,
    Four angels there a-spread.
    Two to feet and two to head,
    And four to bury me
    When I’m dead.

    I go by sea I go by land,
    The Lord made me
    with His right hand,
    If any danger come to me…
    Sweet Jesus Christ, deliver me.
    ————————————————————————–

    It’s very close to the version you quoted. I don’t know where the composer got the words or if he was the lyricist for this or not. I just thought you would appreciate it.

    And, because you mention Hansel & Gretal, I thought you might like to see them, as well:

    When at night I go to sleep
    Fourteen angels watch do keep.
    Two my head are guarding.
    Two my feet are guiding.
    Two are on my right hand,
    Two are on my left hand.
    Two who warmly cover,
    Two who o’re me hover.
    Two to whom ’tis given,
    To guide my steps to heaven.

    I hope I was helpful in some small way.

    Nadine Mesnard Alldridge

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