Holy, holy, holy!

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week.  For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week.  The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert and art and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy, there is none beside thee
perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
all thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

 Words: Reginald Heber

Tune: Nicaea
Music: John Bacchus Dykes

CCLI - 1073121





Hymn Commentary 

As this Sunday is Trinity Sunday there was only one hymn we could have chosen: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!. It is a popular hymn and it has even been described as one of the rare hymns which appears in just about every hymnal.

The words were written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). The inspiration for the words were both Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 where the line ‘Holy, holy, holy!’ can be found; this line is sung six times throughout the hymn showing its significance.  It was written to worship the Trinity which is clear from the last line of verses one and four: ‘God in three persons, blessed Trinity!’. He wrote these words during his time as vicar of the village of Hodnet, Shropshire, during which time he also wrote over 100 hymns. This was shortly before he moved to India to be Bishop of Calcutta for three years where he died suddenly in 1826. The words were first published in the same year when they were discovered by his wife after his death.

It is not clear whether the words were set to another tune before the tune we know today was composed. The tune we know is Nicaea, composed in 1861 by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). Nicaea was composed for Holy, holy, holy! to be published in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861; this is when the hymn started to gain its popularity. The tune is a classic example of Victorian hymn tune writing with solid harmonies and subtle chromaticism. It starts with a rising third pattern which could symbolise the Trinity. Since Nicaea and these words were put together they have rarely been separated.

Billy Colbourne – Assistant Organist

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