04 September 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 4 September 2022

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

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, and is also marked as Creation Sunday. Later this morning, I plan to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and in the afternoon I hope go to the Parish Fete at All Saints’ Church, Calverton.

But, before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

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, 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.’

‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14: 27) … ‘Simon,’ Station 5 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 25-33 (NRSVA):

25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’

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

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

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [4 September 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’ for which Vaughan Williams wrote the tune ‘Down Ampey.’ Thanks in particular to this setting by Vaughan Williams, this hymn is loved around the world.

He named the tune after the pretty Cotswold village of Down Ampney in Gloucestnershire, where he was born in the Vicarage 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 nave is supported on pointed arches decorated with a profusion of red flowers. One theory says the flowers are a reminder of the bubonic plague or Black Death, when red rash marked the victims’ skin. The Black Death is also said to explain why the church stands at a distance from the centre of the village.

When the order of Templars was suppressed by the crown in 1315, the living of Down Ampney passed to the Abbey of Cirencester. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries it passed to Christ Church, Oxford.

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 interior is a symphony of woodwork, with intricately carved south transept screen and pulpit, and the Victorian north transept screen incorporates Jacobean panelling. The south transept has a pair of effigies, Sir Nicholas de Valers (or de Valery), a Templar knight associated with the founding of the church, and perhaps his wife, Margaret Bassett, who is shown in a pious pose.

The north transept or Hungerford Chapel is enclosed within a fine oak screen, part of which is made from the Musicians’ Gallery at Cirencester Abbey. The fragments were found in a yard in Down Ampney parish and moved into the church. The chapel is a grandiose memorial to Sir James Hungerford and his son Anthony, successive lords of the manor of Down Ampney. Their ornate, gilded monument dates to 1637 and shows father and son facing each other across a prayer desk.

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. It 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.

The hymn was first published in 1906, when it was published in the English Hymnal, edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams, 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,
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 Duomo in Siena … ‘Come down, O love divine’ was originally written in Italian in the 14th or 15th century by Bianco da Siena. (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Sunday 4 September 2022 (Trinity XII, Creation Sunday):

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of all mercy,
in this eucharist you have set aside our sins
and given us your healing:
grant that we who are made whole in Christ
may bring that healing to this broken world,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Season of Creation,’ is introduced this morning by the Season of Creation Advisory Committee:

‘The Psalmist declares, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19: 1-4) Creation never ceases to proclaim, but do we listen?

‘During the Season of Creation, our common prayer and action can help us listen for the voices of those who are silenced. In prayer we lament the individuals, communities, species, and ecosystems who are lost, and those whose livelihoods are threatened by habitat loss and climate change. In prayer we centre the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

‘Listening to the voice of creation offers members of the Christian family a rich entry point for interfaith and interdisciplinary dialogue and practice. By listening to the voice of all creation, humans from all cultures and sectors of life can be joined in our vocation to care for our common home.

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

‘O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and I rise up’. May we listen to God and follow the path he leads us along, for He has a plan for us.

Street art in Rethymnon in Crete … Sunday 4 September marks the beginning of Creation Season (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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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