17 March 2015

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (28):
‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’

Magda’s Irish home … Dundarave House in Bushmills, Co Antrim, was the home of Magdalene (Fisher), Lady Macnaghten, for whom Vaughan Williams wrote the tune ‘Magda’

Patrick Comerford

Today [17 March 2015] is Saint Patrick’s Day. The readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) are: Tobit 13: 1b-7 or Deuteronomy 32: 1-9; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; and John 4: 31-38.

For my reflections and devotions each day during Lent this year, 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 [17 March 2015], as we prepare to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, I encourage you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’ by Canon John Ellerton (1826-1893).

I have chosen this hymn on Saint Patrick’s Day because Vaughan Williams wrote the tune Magda with this hymn in mind, but also gave it some interesting Irish connections.

The tune was first published in 1925 in Songs of Praise, where it is chosen as the setting for this hymn.

Vaughan Williams named the tune Magda because he wrote it in preparation for the wedding of Magdalene Fisher (1903-2002), his niece by marriage, who was about to marry the future Sir Anthony Macnaghten (1899-1972) on 27 February 1926.

After World War II, the couple moved to his family home, Dundarave House in Bushmills, Co Antrim. In 1955, Sir Antony Macnaghten succeeded to the family title as tenth baronet and as Chief of the Macnachtan Clan. The first Macnaghten came from Scotland in the 16th century and served as secretary to the MacDonnells, Earls of Antrim. The lands they acquired included a large portion of the village of Bushmills, which the clan rebuilt in the late 1800s. The family motto is: “Be not wiser nor the Highest, I hope in God.”

When her husband died in 1972, Magda continued to live in Northern Ireland until her death in February 2002 at the age of 98.

One of the hymns sung at her funeral on 1 March 2002 in Dunluce, Parish Church was ‘For all the saints, who from the their labours rest.’ Her uncle Vaughan Williams had composed the tune Sine Nomine for that hymn by Bishop Walsham How (1823-1897).

The tune Magda is used for the hymn ‘Go forth for God; go forth for the world in peace’ by John Raphael Peacey (1869-1971) in both the New English Hymnal (No 321) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 455), while Ellerton’s hymn ‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’ is often set to the tune ‘Ellers’ by FJ Hopkins (1818-1901), re-harmonised by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), with Vaughan Wlliams’s Magda as an alternative tune (see New English Hymnal, No 250) .

Like Vaughan Williams and Sir Anthony Macnaghten, Canon John Ellerton was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was an authority on hymns, wrote or translated over 80 hymns, and contributed to Hymns Ancient and Modern. His best-known hymn is, perhaps, ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended.’ He is said to have written that hymn in 1870 as he made his nightly walk to teach at a Mechanics' Institute. It was published that year in 1870 for A Liturgy for Missionary Meetings.

He was born in Clerkenwell into an evangelical family, and was educated at King William’s College on the Isle of Man, and Trinity College, Cambridge (BA 1849; MA 1854), where he came under the influence of Frederick D. Maurice.

He was ordained deacon in 1850 and priest in 1851 by the Bishop of Chichester, and at first was curate of Eastbourne, Sussex, and then Curate of Brighton Lecturer of Saint Peter’s, Brighton.

In 1860, he became chaplain to Lord Crewe and Vicar of Crewe Green in Cheshire. There he chaired the education committee at the Mechanics Institute for the local Railway Company. Reorganising the Institute, he made it one of the most successful in England. He taught classes in English and Bible History, and organised one of the first Choral Associations in the Midlands.

While he was Vicar of Crewe Green, he wrote this hymn in 1866 for the Malpas, Middlewich and Nantwich Choral Association in Cheshire.

He was co-editor with Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897) and others of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) Church Hymns (1871).

In 1872, he became Rector of Saint Oswald’s, Hinstock, Shropshire, in the Diocese of Lichfield. In 1876, he moved to Barnes, then in Surrey, a west London suburb. There he became very involved in the work of SPCK. However, the work among a large population broke him down and he had to go abroad for a year, serving as Chaplain at Pegli in Italy (1884-1885). He returned to England and the small Essex parish in White Roding was his last.

During his final illness, he was made an honorary canon of St Albans Cathedral in 1892, but was never installed. It is said that as he lay dying hymns flowed from his lips in unceasing praise to God. He died in Torquay in Devon on 15 June 1893, aged 66.

Ellerton refused to register a copyright on any of his hymns, claiming that if they “counted worthy to contribute to Christ’s praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble.” To hear them offered in worship was reward enough for him.

Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise
With one accord our parting hymn of praise.
Guard thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame,
That in this house have called upon thy name.

Grant us thy peace, Lord, through the coming night;
Turn thou for us its darkness into light;
From harm and danger keep thy children free,
For dark and light are both alike to thee.

Grant us thy peace throughout our earthly life;
Peace to thy Church from error and from strife;
Peace to our land, the fruit of truth and love;
Peace in each heart, thy Spirit from above.

Thy peace in life, the balm of every pain;
Thy peace in death, the hope to rise again;
Then, when thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Lord, to thine eternal peace.

Saint Patrick in a carving on the west door of the college chapel in Maynooth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Tomorrow:I heard the voice of Jesus say’ (‘Kingsfold’)

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