How Great Thou Art, the Story

Composer Carl Boberg Writes How Great Thou Art

The hymn How Great Thou Art traveled a long road before it ended up a favorite edition to English hymnals. The original version was a poem written by a Swedish pastor, Reverend Carl Boberg in 1886, and entitled O Stor Gud. Boberg published the poem in his periodical Sanningsvittnet. Several years later he was surprised and delighted to hear his poem being sung by a church congregation, to the tune of an old Swedish folk melody.

Boberg's poem was soon thereafter translated into German by Manfred von Glehn, who entitled it Wie gross bist Du. In 1925, an American Reverend E. Gustav Johnson translated the Swedish poem into an English version that is somewhat different than the one popular today. For instance, the first line of Johnson's hymn reads Oh mighty God, when I behold the wonder..

In 1927, I.S. Prokanoff translated Glehn's German version into Russian, to be enjoyed by that culture also. Throughout all of these translations, the original Swedish folk tune remained the same.

In 1933, English missionaries to the Ukraine, Reverend and Mrs. Stuart K. Hine heard the song for the first time, fell in love with it and sang it often throughout their missionary journeys. As they traveled the Carpathian Mountains, the couple was inspired by the incredible beauty to translate the first three verses of the song into English. When WWII broke out in 1939, the Hines returned to England carrying How Great Thou Art to its new home. After the war they wrote the fourth verse and arranged the original Swedish folk tune to be published in English hymnals.

In the 1950s, the song was copyrighted and widely published in America, becoming more and more popular. When George Beverly Shay and the Billy Graham gospel choir, directed by Cliff Barrows, began to sing the song at virtually every crusade event, How Great Thou Art soon became one of the most recognized songs around the world. It was also recorded by several popular artists, including Elvis Presley. A poll conducted by the Christian Herald magazine in 1974 named How Great Thou Art the most popular hymn in America.


O Lord, how great are Thy works!” (Psalm 92:5)

(See also: How Great Thou Art, the Song)

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Written by: Connie Ruth Christiansen

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