Good King Wenceslas!

Boxing Day is celebrated on 26th December annually, well not so much celebrated as remembered.

Under Queen Victoria it was brought up to date and became a time for the wealthy to show their generosity by way of gifts to those of the poor. In fact so much so that it became a national holiday in England in 1871.

It is a shame it is not still seen as a time to get out there and help the poor but as just a day to go to the sales to pick up a bargain.

Originally and according to Charles Dickens Boxing day was a holiday

‘on which postmen, errand boys, and servants of various kinds received a Christmas box of contributions from those whom they serve’

An Alms (charity) Box (thus it became boxing day) was placed in every church for the poor of the parish and the money distributed on Boxing Day which is also the Feast day of St Stephen. St Stephen was one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr.

In the Acts of the Apostles the name of St. Stephen occurs for the first time on the occasion of the appointment of the first deacons. Dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of alms from the community’s fund having arisen in the Church, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members.

Of these seven, Stephen, is the first mentioned and the best known. In fact this is reflected in the Christmas Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore wrote the carol which was first published in Carols for Christmas-Tide in 1853. Neale was known for his devotion to High Church traditions. Neale’s lyrics are possibly a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda, written in Czech, German and Latin.

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Putting on your Sunday best!

helstonI have always hated setting off for work while it was still dark, but for Victorians this was just the way it was. You worked for poor wages and usually six long days a week, that would be everyone including young children, they had to work where they could, street corners, maybe dangerous factories which mean’t crawling under huge machines or maybe back breaking work in a field.

So that left Sunday and on that day the family would get up early, wash, dress in their Sunday best and go off to church. A great number of Victorians were habitual church-goers, at least once and probably twice, every Sunday, I have to say even I have done that.

Why?

Well myself and my family go off to church every Sunday morning the same as most Victorians, they like my family were Christians and went to church.

For many this was their community, the local church family which tended to be their main source of friends and entertainment. Time then tended to be measured in the church year, Easter, Whitsun, Advent, Christmas etc..

For me, some of this is still true, the sense of community and being is still there and we have friends and my life does revolve around the church year, we do have some fun but entertainment choices are so vast now days. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year…not for the presents or the over extending of our wallets or waistbands but for the beauty that the church can bring to the birth of Christ.

But I think it is fair to say the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt when it came to the Christian faith, they faced the first time that anyone really called into question institutional Christianity on such a large scale, and yet there were revivals not only in Britain but internationally too: the Baptist Revival at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas in 1841; the Wesleyan Methodist Revival in Cornwall, 1849; the Primitive Methodist Revival in Weardale, County Durham in 1851; the Presbyterian Revival at North Carolina, 1857; the Ferryden Revival, Forfarshire, Scotland in 1859; the Moonta Mines Revival, South Australia in 1874; and the Baptist Nova Scotia Revival, 1880 and it is difficult to guess the impact that these movement had to the big institutions like the Church of England or Roman Catholicism but also on the government and people of the time.

Clearly Christian faith inspired many to help others and to work to improve our society.

The Church brought education for all with schools, they also brought football for all with football teams which started from Church clubs from at least 1857. (We also had the world’s oldest football trophy, the Youdan Cup, the first national competition, the FA Cup founded in 1871, and the first ever association football league 1888 as well as England having the first national football team that hosted the world’s first ever international football match, a 1-1 draw with Scotland on 5 March 1870 at The Oval in London.)

But I think it was the reformers that the Christian faith moved to works of great goodness and charity. William Barnardo founded Dr Barnado and along with George Müller cared for orphans. William Booth formed the Salvation Army and helped the homeless, alcoholics, poor and unemployed.

Evangelical Tory philanthropist Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury made a great deal of difference and fought for the protection of children in factories and mines, and later chimney sweeps, for public health legislation and for the proper treatment of what were then called ‘lunatics’ (Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catherine Arnold is well worth a read)

I believe the ideals of the Christian faith had a profound effect Victorian Britain and to some degree they still underpin many of the moral leaning in this age. Of course that didn’t make it perfect but at least it did some good, something that maybe we could learn from in this age of greed and selfishness.

Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile

hymns_3At Church this morning we sang ‘Be Thou My Vision’ or ‘Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile’ as it is in original Gaelic.

The lyrics are great:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of Heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of Heaven, thou Heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won!;
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
This ancient hymn became enormously popular during the Victorian Era and finally made it’s way into the English hymnal in 1912 by Eleanor Hull.
This is still a very popular used at both weddings and funerals and is originally from Ireland and commonly attributed to Dallán Forgaill, from the 6th Century. 

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven

stmarys

For the Victorians faith was an important element in their lives. It was the community of the local church that was their main source of friends and with that socialising and entertainment.
The Christian belief in Jesus as Lord, how he helped the poor, distraught, down trodden inspired many to help others.
Church schools brought education for all; people like William Barnardo and George Müller cared for orphans Dr Banardos still caring for unwanted Children. William Booth helped the homeless, poor and unemployed with the Salvation Army.
Christian politicians like Lord Shaftesbury and Sir William Gladstone cared deeply about social justice and tried to change what they could, the influence of Christ was felt deeply in the Christian era.

stainFor myself, I am a Christian and have recently moved to a traditional Anglican Church of St Mary’s. It was built in 1861 and is a fine example of a Victorian Church, it is beautiful inside and has a full graveyard, and the remains of the former Church (although there have been Churches on this site for 1000 years).

It has a good Choir of all ages and great Choir Master/Organist. 
When serving we wear robes. We use the common prayer book and also the 1662 service, and The Rector is a lovely incumbent and I can’t help but feel a connection with those who attended the Church in the 160 years or so.
Henry_Francis_LyteThis morning we sang one of my favourite hymns called ‘Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven‘, I always liked it even when I was a child. It was composed and written by an Anglican divine and hymnist called Henry Francis Lyte who lived from 1793–1847. He attended Trinity College in Dublin and took orders and became the incumbent of Lower Brixham in Devonshire. So hear are his words that have been sang in many Churches for the last 170 years.
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me His praise should sing:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.
Praise Him for His grace and favour
To our fathers in distress.
Praise Him still the same as ever,
Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glorious in His faithfulness.
Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Widely yet His mercy flows.
Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish
Our God lives unchanging on,
Praise Him, Praise Him, Hallelujah
Praise the High Eternal One!
Angels, help us to adore Him;
Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him,
Dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.