John Francis Wade
About John Francis Wade
John Francis Wade's name comes to our attention most often around Christmas time: it is his arrangement of the well-known carol "Adeste fideles" (O come, all ye faithful), which is sung in Christian churches, Catholic, and Protestant, around the world. Yet Wade is more than a musical "one-hit wonder." By far the more important work of his life was his production of a large series of books of Catholic plainchant, both printed and manuscript copies. An enthusiastic throwback to the old days of the monastic scriptorium, Wade perfected his own hand at calligraphy, illumination, and the copying of plainchant worship music. His manuscripts served the Catholic liturgy in the chapels of most of London's foreign embassies, as well as the private chapels of many English, American, and European Catholic aristocrats. He also published editions of Catholic liturgical books for wider dissemination. He has been called the "father of the English plainchant revival."
Unfortunately, very little is known of Wade's actual biography. His father's name may have been John Wade: a Yorkish man of this name converted to Roman Catholicism around 1730, and John Francis Wade is known to have studied on the continent at a Dominican College (in Bornhem, Flanders) and to have joined the Marian Confraternity of the Rosary at that time. From around 1737 to 1774, Wade apparently lived in London and wrote his numerous chantbooks. Though he seems to have personally espoused the Jacobite cause and hoped for a renewal of the Stuart line, his political activities may have been limited to propagandizing hymns such as "Adeste fideles" and "Vexilla regis." At any rate, his musical influence was quite wide: Samuel Wesley corresponded with him and Vincent Novello published his work. His championing of Catholic plainchant helped fuel the British national revival of early music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.