31 July 2022

Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 31 July 2022

The Old Vicarage, Down Ampney, where the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in 1872 (Photograph: Colin West 2011 / Panoramio)

Patrick Comerford

Today in calendar of the Church is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, and later this morning (31 July 2022) I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Parish Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season.

In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reading one of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Luke 12: 13-21 (NRSVA):

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

The Duomo in Siena … RF Littledale’s hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’ is a translation of an Italian hymn by Bianco da Siena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s reflection: ‘Come down, O love divine’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions. He wrote the tune ‘Down Ampey’ for the hymn ‘Come down, O love divine,’ and thanks in particular to his setting this hymn is loved around the world.

Vaughan Williams named the tune after the pretty Cotswold village of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, where he was born in the Vicarage 150 years ago on 12 October 1872. Down Ampney is off the A417, which runs between Cirencester and Faringdon in Oxfordshire on the A420, and about 5 km north of Cricklade, which is on the A419 running from Cirencester to Swindon, Wiltshire.

The parish church, All Saints’ Church, was founded by the Knights Templar in 1265, although much of its current shape is the result of a Victorian rebuilding. The spire dates from the 14th century, when the south porch was added.

The church has excellent stained glass, much of it Victorian or modern, including a series of nautical parables given by Admiral Charles Talbot after his ship survived a storm off Sebastopol in 1854. Another window depicting the Resurrection Stone is dedicated to Vaughan Williams’s father.

The composer’s father, the Revd Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams (1834-1875), served in Bemerton – the same parish where the poet George Herbert had been Vicar around 300 years earlier — and at Halsall in Lancashire, before becoming the Vicar of Down Ampney in 1868. He died there on 9 February 1875, only three years after the birth of his son Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Soon after, Vaughan Williams was taken by his mother, Margaret Susan (née Wedgwood) (1842-1937), a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood III and the great-granddaughter of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, to live with her family at Leith Hill Place, a home in the North Downs in Surrey bought by the Wedgwood family in 1847.

The tune he composed for the mediaeval hymn ‘Come Down, O Love Divine’ (Discendi, Amor santo), written by Bianco da Siena (ca1350-1434), is named ‘Down Ampney’ with affection for and in honour of his birthplace.

‘Come down, O love divine,’ (New English Hymnal, No 137; Irish Church Hymnal, No 294) was originally written in Italian in the 14th or 15th century by Bianco da Siena.

Bianco di Santi (ca 1350-1399), also known as Bianco da Siena and Bianco da Lanciolina, was an Italian mystic poet and an imitator of Jacopone da Todi. He wrote several religious poems that were popular in the Middle Ages. At first he was a wool carder who worked in Siena. He eventually became a member of the Jesuates, founded by Giovanni Colombini. He died in Venice in 1399.

The hymn was first translated into English in 1867 by the Revd Dr Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890), a Dublin-born Anglican priest who had been forced to give up his full-time parochial ministry due to ill-health.

Littledale was curate in Saint Matthew in Thorpe Hamlet, Norfolk (1856-1857) and curate of Saint Mary the Virgin, Crown Street, Soho, London (1857-1861), where he took an interest in the work of the House of Charity.

For the rest of his life, Littledale suffered from chronic ill-health. He took little part in any parochial duties and devoted himself mainly to writing. Until his death, he continued to act as a father confessor, and next to Edward Pusey is said to have heard more confessions than any other priest in the Church of England. Through William Bell Scott he came to know and influence the poet Christina Rossetti.

Littledale was a contributor to many newspapers and publications, including Kottabos (a college miscellany in TCD), Notes and Queries, the Daily Telegraph, the Church Quarterly Review, and The Academy. He wrote many books and pamphlets in support of Anglicanism in opposition to Roman Catholicism.

In conjunction with the Revd James Edward Vaux, Littledale wrote The Priest’s Prayer Book (1864), The People’s Hymnal (1867), The Christian Passover (1873) and The Altar Manual, of which 46,000 copies were published.

The People’s Hymnal (1867) included the hymn Come Down, O Love Divine, translating the Italian of Bianco da Siena. The original poem was included in the Laudi Spirituali del Bianco da Siena of Telesforo Bini in 1851.

He died at 9 Red Lion Square, London, on 11 January 1890. A reredos to his memory was erected in the chapel at Saint Katharine’s, 32 Queen Square, London, in March 1891.

In 1906, Littledale’s version of Come Down, O Love Divine was included in the English Hymnal, edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams. It was set to this strong, eminently singable, tune specially composed for it by Vaughan Williams, with a unique metre. Indeed, many regard this as the most beautiful of all his hymn tunes.

’Come down, O Love divine’ (‘Down Ampney’) by King’s College Choir, Cambridge/Thomas Williamson/Stephen Cleobury

Come down, O love divine,
Seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

The Piazza del Campo in Siena … RF Littledale’s hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’ is a translation of an Italian hymn by Bianco da Siena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

At the annual conference of the USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh last week, we were updated on the work of USPG’s partners in Ukraine, Russia and with USPG’s partners with Ukrainian refugees.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Refugee Support in Poland.’ The Revd David Brown, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Poland, spoke to USPG earlier in the year about the conflict in Ukraine and how it has affected churches in Poland. The situation may have changed since he wrote:

‘There are many refugees from Ukraine who have travelled to Poland. These people come from all sections of society and some of them have existing links to family and friends in Poland. Many thousands of refugees don’t have such links and are simply trying to find a safe place to stay. Major train stations are used as transit points for refugees with volunteers from many different organisations offering basic supplies there.

‘Our chaplaincy is small in number, so it is difficult for us to take collective action. Instead, individuals from our congregation are volunteering at help centres and providing shelter for refugees, who are often shocked and traumatised by their experiences. It can also be a struggle for both refugees and their hosts to acclimatise to each other. The chaplaincy continues to hold daily services and offer pastoral care and support to all affected by the current situation and those in Poland who are facing problems unrelated to the conflict in Ukraine.

‘We recognise that the fallout from the situation in Ukraine will pose long-term challenges in the coming weeks, months and years. Our chaplaincy will be here to offer support wherever possible.’

Sunday 31 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Welcoming God,
you taught us to befriend the stranger.
May we offer hospitality and support
to all in need.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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