Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember Reginald Heber: Poet, Priest, and Bishop of India.

It is the 3rd of April 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


According to one source, April 3rd, 1826, in Trichinopoly (modern Tiruchirappalli) in India, was a particularly warm day. The Anglican Bishop of India, Reginald Heber, spent the morning preaching and, according to another source, confirmed a number of native Indians into the faith. Upon going home, he took his customary plunge in a cold bath. When he didn’t come out, a servant checked on him to find Heber dead, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 42.

While he was a capable administrator and once promising poet, Heber’s fame would come posthumously when his wife found a collection of hymns he had written, published them, and he would become known as the author of one of the most beloved hymns in the English language. The Heber family had been of some wealth and status, having been granted a coat of arms and a manor with land in Shropshire and Malpas near the Welsh border. Reginald was born to Mary and the Reverend Reginald Sr. on the 21st of April in 1783.

He was a bright boy, fond and capable of reading. He was sent to a private school and then to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1800 at the age of 17. There, he showed his gift for writing poetry, winning the newly created Newdigate prize for best composition by an undergraduate. The poem came about when he and fellow student and friend Walter Scott (later the famous Scottish novelist) talked about ancient Palestine over breakfast. The poem, “Palestine,” is a reflection on the ancient city, its once proud temple, and the life and death of Christ.

Upon graduation, he would spend a year traveling through northern Europe and into Russia- where he would develop his fondness for overseas missions; upon arriving home, he would support the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Church Missionary Society and later be called to his position in India.

He was elected fellow at All Soul’s College and ordained in 1807. Upon his father's death, he took over the family parish in Hodnet in Shropshire. In 1809, he married Amelia, the daughter of a Welsh minister, and the two would have three girls.

In the time he spent at Hodnet he tried to carefully balance both the high church and low church factions in the church of England. He was from the High Church tradition but found much to be admired amongst the Evangelicals- especially their hymns- he was fond of the Olney hymns of John Newton and William Cowper. He petitioned his bishop to allow him to write contemporary hymns that corresponded to the Sunday scripture readings. He was denied but still wrote 57 hymns that his wife would later publish. Amongst these was his hymn for Trinity Sunday, Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty. It is one of the most popular English hymns, paired with the tune Nicea by John Dykes. Even Unitarians and Mormons have the hymn in their hymnals with select edits to the trinitarian language.  

Another popular hymn, “From Greenland’s icy Mountains,” was written at the behest of his father-in-law, who was hosting the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and wanted an appropriate hymn- the story is told that Reginald was asked and wrote it immediately only later adding the final verse:

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,

And you, ye waters, roll,

Till, like a sea of glory,

It spreads from pole to pole:

Till o'er our ransomed nature

The Lamb for sinners slain,

Redeemer, King, Creator,

In bliss returns to reign.

In light of his work with the society he was called to be Bishop of India (at the time this see also included Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa). After consulting a doctor about his and his families health they accepted and left in 1823. He would spend 3 years traveling, building churches and schools and preaching. He would also ordain the first native pastor into the Anglican Church.

When he died, he was mourned, and the pastor and poet were given a fitting memorial. Reginald and Amelia had lost one of their daughters, and he would write the hymn Thou Art Gone to the Grave. A friend would add an additional verse to the hymn in his honor:

Thou art gone to the grave, but thy work shall not perish,
  That work which the spirit of wisdom hath blest;

His might shall support it, His mercy shall cherish,
His love make it prosper tho' thou art at rest.

Born on April 21st, 1783, Reginald Heber was 42 when he died on this, the 3rd of April in 1826.


The last word for today is from Heber himself, from Holy Holy Holy based on Revelation 4:

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 pow'r, in love, and purity.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of April 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who “werts” and “arts” he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who always feels lazy when the main character for the day dies younger than I am- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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