As a Protestant church we obey the commandment and avoid prayers to saints* and worship of saintly men and women of old, however noble they may have been. At times, perhaps, we have gone too far in excluding the name, forgetting that the apostle Paul often described church members of his time with the term "saints." See Rom. 1:7; 16:2; 1 Cor. 1:2; 16:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; 13:13; Eph. 1:1, and many other references. Indeed, the titles of the four Gospels confer sainthood upon the writers, and in our own denominational hymnbook we find an imposing list of saints in the titles of our hymn tunes. See page 629 in the Church Hymnal.
A study of this rarely opened page in the hymnbook will add a story or two that will give interest to hymn singing and enable the one who announces a hymn to do more than say, "One hundred ninety-three is our next song."
There are thirty different tunes identified by a saint's name, some of them used more than once, so that thirty-seven hymns are concerned altogether. Some are named after churches, some after holy men or women of old; some are not in the saints' calendar at all; some are male, some female. Most, however, have some story attached to them, and in several cases it has a connection with the words and will enable a congregation to sing the hymn intelligently. In any case, a story associated with a hymn tune produces a more sympathetic congregation, better singing, and a more worshipful atmosphere, even if the story should not rest too solidly on established facts.
New Testament Saints
First let us consider the names of four of these saints who are indubitably so called. They are well-known New Testament figures—Peter, Thomas, Stephen, and John. The tune St. Peter really commemorates a church—and there are many churches dedicated to this famous apostle —the church of St. Peter's in the East, in the city of Oxford, England. At this church Alexander R. Reinagle (1799-1877) was the organist, and he composed this tune in 1836, naming it in honor of the church where he served for more than thirty years. It was originally intended to be used for the metrical version of Psalm 118, but has proved so popular as a common meter tune that it does duty for three hymns in our hymnal—Nos. 150, 309, and 436. St. Peter himself was martyred under the persecutions of Nero and was crucified in Rome about A.D. 64.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, being stoned outside Jerusalem in approximately A.D. 34. The tune that bears his name, No. 194, was composed in 1789 by an Anglican vicar, William Jones (17261800) of Nayland, Suffolk, England. Again its original use was for a psalm, the shepherd's psalm, and there is, of course, a connection between the tragic end of Stephen and walking "through the valley of the shadow of death." The real reason, however, for giving this name to this tune was simply that Jones admired Stephen above all other Bible characters. This is a tune that should be sung more frequently, since it has a lively lilt and fits the triumphant words that tell of the glorious Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another old tune is St. Thomas, No. 442, by an unknown composer, and appearing in Aaron Williams' Psalmody of 1770. Thomas, so often called the doubter, evidently resolved his doubts when he saw his Lord and his God, for tradition tells of his ministry particularly to India. According to one tradition he was martyred at Mylapore, a suburb of Madras, and churches there still honor the name of this faithful disciple. It is a happy coincidence that the words of the hymn "How beauteous are their feet. . . who bring salvation," a paraphrase of Isaiah 52:7, could well apply to the work of this apostle who traveled eastward with the gospel message.
The fourth New Testament saint mentioned is not John the beloved, but John the Baptist (No. 129), a tune deliberately named by the famous musician John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). This eminent organist composed the tune in 1864 for the words that had been written sixteen years earlier. Each stanza begins with the words "Behold the Lamb" and they were written under the title "Ecce Agnus Dei," which is the Latin rendering of the Baptist's appeal, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). This is not a difficult tune to learn. Its first four lines are appropriately in a minor key, two lines being identical. The last three lines change to the major key, two lines of this part also being identical. An initial difficulty may be the first line, a kind of introduction that is in 4/4 time, the rest of the hymn reverting to 3/4 time. If, however, organist, conductor, and congregation are forewarned, this hymn can be a great success.
A fifth New Testament name will be noticed—St. Andrew, No. 367—though this is not the brother of Simon Peter but his namesake, known as St. Andrew of Crete, who lived from A.D. 660 to A.D. 732. This is another of John Bacchus Dykes's tunes, composed in 1868, and given this name because John Mason Neale 's translation of the words is a very free rendering of a hymn written in Greek by Andrew of Crete. Andrew was born in Damascus, became a monk in Jerusalem, and later was appointed archbishop of Crete. Again, another example is shown of Dykes's musical skill in setting the first half, which has rather mournful, doleful words (asking a question in the first three stanzas) in a minor key. Then the last half is written in a major key that harmonizes exactly with the vigorous and triumphant militant answer of the victorious Christian. When congregations realize this, they will not be afraid to tackle the top F in line 7 and give it an all-conquering sound!
Three of the saints are ecclesiastically spurious ones, and two of these were given their spurious sainthood by the famous composer Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900). St. Clement, No. 57, was named by him, with the saint added, to commemorate his friend Clement Cotterill Scholefield (1839-1904) who composed the tune in 1874. The two men were associated together in St. Paul's Church of England, South Kensington, where Scholefield was curate and Sullivan organist. St. Gertrude, No. 360, commemorates Mrs. Gertrude Clay-Ker-Seymour of Hanford, Dorset, England, at whose home Sir Arthur Sullivan was a guest when he composed this marching tune in 1871. It was written especially for the words we now sing, "Onward, Christian Soldiers!" The third tune that was canonized in this way is St. Louis, No. 104, by Lewis Henry Redner (18311908), organist of Holy Trinity church, Philadelphia. He was seeking a tune in 1868 to fit the Christmas hymn of his rector, Phillips Brooks, but not until Christmas Eve was he satisfied. He was evidently thinking of the problem intensely, for he awoke with this melody ringing in his ears. He jotted it down quickly at his bedside, harmonized it in the morning, and it was sung first, to the words we now have, on December 27, 1868.
Of the tunes that are named after females the one most well-known is probably St. Anne (Nos. 81 and 435) because of its association with the famous words "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." It is at least 250 years old, its composer possibly being William Croft (1678-1727) who was the organist at St. Anne's church, Soho, London, from which the tune derives its name. The tune does appear in Barber's Psalms Tunes, 1687, suggesting that Croft named it only. Anne was the wife of Joachim and the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus. She was without child until advanced in age like Samuel's mother, Hannah—which is the same name as Anne—and dedicated her daughter Mary to God's service. Anne is the patron saint of fair winds for sailors as is Mary for directing the course of those who go down to the sea in ships.
Three others are named after three virgins of early Christian times who suffered martyrdom for their faith. St. Agnes, composed in 1866 by J. B. Dykes, is used three times, for hymns Nos. 158, 209, and 413, but was specially written for No. 158, "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee." Agnes was a mere girl of 13 who refused to marry the son of Sempronius, a Roman nobleman, and was denounced as a Christian under the Diocletian persecution. She refused to offer incense at the altar of Minerva and was tortured, condemned to a brothel, and then executed about A.D. 304. Her dying words, "Christ is my bridegroom," echo the sentiment of the words written by Bernard of Clairvaux, and the tune is therefore fittingly named for this particular hymn.
Cecilia (No. 396) was a member of a noble Roman family who lived in the early part of the third century of the Christian Era, though some place her death as early as A.D. 180. On the eve of her wedding day she consecrated her virginity to God, like Jephthah's daughter, and broke the news to Valerianus, her husband-to-be. He embraced Christianity and both suffered martyrdom for their faith a few days afterward. Cecilia was placed in a hot-air bath to suffocate her, but she survived; she was then executed, but so clumsily that tradition alleges that it took three days for her to die. She is now regarded as the patron saint of music and of the blind, and the words of this hymn by Horatius Bonar are an apt epitome of her consecration and trust in God. Note especially the thought of one of the omitted stanzas:
"Take Thou my cup, and it With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;Choose Thou my good and ill."
The Rev. Leighton George Hayne (18361883) composed the tune specially for these words, commemorating the sacrifice of this noble maiden.St. Catherine (No. 349), one of six saints of this name, known as a maid most pure, resisted the advances of Maxentius of Alexandria. Although only 18 years of age, this talented princess tried to convince the emperor of his folly in persecuting Christians and answered the arguments of his pagan scholars. She was scourged and imprisoned and placed on the wheel to be tortured. Legend says that the wheel broke, so this became her symbol and she the patron saint of wheelwrights. She was finally executed for her defense of the Christian faith. The tune was composed in 1865 by a Roman Catholic organist of Tyne-mouth, England, named Henri Frederick Hemy (1818-1888), and it was inspired by the words of the hymn entitled "St. Catherine, Virgin and Martyr." It has now been used for the present words that challenge the singers to faithfulness, emulating that of Catherine of early Christian times.
St. Bees (No. 298) is another tune composed by J. B. Dykes, and it commemorates the village of this name in Cumberland where he spent many happy holiday hours. This township is named after a nunnery established there in A.D. 650 by St. Bees, an abbess from Ireland who was noted for her austerity and charity. She became the patron saint of laborers and oppressed people, and Dykes chose this name for the tune because it was written originally for one of Bishop Walsham How's hymns on humility.
The other two tunes bearing feminine saints' names both commemorate royal benefactresses. St. Margaret, No. 145, was a queen of Scotland, reigning from approximately 1070 to 1093, who persuaded her husband, Malcolm III, to support her in building churches and monasteries, one of which was Iona. She took a particular interest in the poor and in strangers, and died uncomplainingly, hearing on her deathbed of the death of the king and her eldest son in battle. The tune was composed by Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912), organist of Glasgow Cathedral, for the words by a Scots preacher, so a Scottish queen fitly reminds us of the origin of the complete hymn.
St. Hilda, used for hymns Nos. 231 and 278, is a much older tune, appearing in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1699. It was adapted first by the organist Justin Heinrich Knecht (1752-1817) and later by the organist vicar of Folkestone, England, Edward Husband (1843-1908). Hilda (614-680) was of royal birth but became a nun and devoted herself to good works, founding a monastery near Whitby, Yorkshire, in A.D. 657, there reviving the spiritual standards of the church. It is therefore more appropriately fitted to No. 231, which speaks of the appeal of Jesus to the church to return to their former ways of righteousness and to forsake their unrighteousness and lukewarmness (Rev. 3:20).
(To be continued)