It is the 5th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
If there is one thing Christians love it is the story behind the story of their favorite hymn. As with poems and other bits of individual artistic creation, apocryphal stories abound about when or where the piece was created.
Today is the likely, possible, maybe birthday of one of the most beloved hymns in the English language and I’ll see if I can tell the story appropriately.
First, I want to introduce you to Henry Lyte who was born in Scotland in 1793. His father abandoned him, his mother, and his younger brother, and the boys were sent off to school in Ireland. Here Henry began to show promise and the tuition was covered by an Administrator. Henry then went off to Trinity College Dublin where he initially began studying medicine. He lived with the family of an Anglican Priest and after a religious conversion decided to study for the ministry instead. He was ordained in 1815 in the Church of England and was sent to his first parish in England.
Henry was “slightly eccentric but of great personal charm, a man noted for his wit and human understanding, a born poet and an able scholar.” There are two important death bed stories circulating concerning Lyte and two friends (or one?) The story goes that sitting at the bed of a dying fellow priest he had an experience that led to him siding with the evangelical side of the Anglican Church. The other death bed story has to do with a dying friend who kept repeating a phrase from the Gospel of Luke. Here’s the passage:
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.
But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
Lyte did not write Abide with Me that night in 1820 although the phrasing may have begun to develop then. Rather he most likely finished composing it on the night of his giving his last sermon at the age of 54 on this, the 5th of September in 1847. He had long suffered from repertory illnesses. For this reason, he often spent the winters in the warmer climates on the Continent.
The story is told by his daughter that he announced, surprisingly, to the family that the sermon on the 5th of September would be his last before leaving for France, and indeed his last ever. She recounted that “In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, ‘Abide with Me’, with an air of his own composing, adapted to the words.” Lyte died weeks later.
The tune he wrote is not the tune you know- but rather the tune “Eventide” was later composed for the words by William Monk who was grieving the loss of his 3-year-old daughter. The song is familiar to even the most ardent non-church-going English person as it has been the theme of the FA Cup since the 1920s and is still sung today by thousands of beer-chugging, scarf-wearing English football fans.
It is my favorite hymn, so let’s finish up today’s show with some recommended versions and the reading will be from the hymn itself.
Kings College Choir, Cambridge
The Thelonious Monk Quartet
Mahalia Jackson with Percy Faith’s Orchestra
Katherine Jenkins does a nice job with it as well.
But the most beautifully haunting version- you already know if you’ve seen 28 Days Later- see the link on the show notes page as it isn’t easy to find.
The last word for today is the first and last stanza of the Hymn celebrating its 174th birthday today:
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the Dude who Abides, he is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who still calls 28 Days later a vampire movie even if it technically isn’t. 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.