Bishops, Poems and Hymns

How wonderful that a Bishop should leave a legacy of  poems and hymns!

We recently sang at St Chrysostom’s church the lovely traditional hymn Hark, the sound of holy voices – the words of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln (1869-1885). (Sung here, by the Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street). The Bishop was the nephew of the poet, William Wordsworth, and his son, John, was to become Bishop of Salisbury. The hymn, one of many he wrote, was written for All Saints’ Day, and was, he said, to be seen as a ‘triumphant song of a vision of the final gathering of saints.’

How wonderful that Bishop Christopher Wordsworth inspired Christians through  scholarly writing and poetry, whilst also presiding over a vast diocese. Other bishops have done similarly. Bishop Reginald Heber and Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith are other examples.  As is the less well known Bishop Cecil Boutflower who, reflecting on his ministry of Confirmation and Eucharist, articulated his thoughts in poetry and hymns for these occasions. And, of course, in more recent years Archbishop Rowan Williams has set a shining example. (Do you know others? – let us know in the comments here if you’d like to).

Statue of Blessed Anton Martin Slomsek outside Maribor Cathedral, Slovenia

This aspect of christian vision and leadership has been found elsewhere in the history and geography of God’s people. As early as the fourth century St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, wrote hymns.

Blessed Anton Martin Slomsek (1800-1862), (Feast Day 24th September) was Bishop of Lavant, in Slovenia from 1846 to his death in 1885. He came from a humble background and was orphaned at the age of 11. He worked hard to gain an education and later served as a parish priest, before becoming a bishop. As well as being a Bishop he was also a great author, poet and song writer. To this day some of his songs are still popular in Slovenia.

Slovenia is a beautiful, small country, with a rich history. Bishop Slomsek was seen as a staunch advocate of the culture of the Slovene people, and a great poet, he encouraged the building of schools, and was a leading supporter of education for all.

Pray that more Christian leaders will follow these examples, encouraging culture and sharing their own faith and experience in poetry and hymns!

Where these bishops have gone, may we follow! Why not in the context of our daily life and work find time to articulate our vision – have a go at writing a poem or hymn of hope, vision or inspiration.


About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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3 Responses to Bishops, Poems and Hymns

  1. proofreader54 says:

    Venantius Fortunatus, Thomas Ken, Walsham How and George Bell also wrote hymns. I am sure I can find more!

  2. Well… we asked if anyone knew of other hymn writing bishops, and in less than 12 hours we received lots of names:

    Bishop Thomas Ken (1637 -1711) wrote, for example, ‘Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born’

    Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith (b. 1926) author of over 400 hymns. Including ‘Lord for the years…’

    Bishop Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893) (6th Bishop of Massechusetts) wrote ‘O Little town of Bethlehem’

    Bishop Jonathan Meyrick (b. 1952) Bishop of Lynn

    Bishop Timothy Rees CR former Bp of Llandaff (1874 – 1939) wrote several hymns including ‘God is love; let heaven adore him’

    Bishop Reginald Heber, (1783 – 1826) Bishop of Calcutta, wrote among many hymns, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty’

    Bishop Charles Venn Pilcher (1879 – 1961) Bishop in Sydney diocese, Australia, wrote many hymns and, interestingly translated, as hymns, several IPassion Psalms from the Icelandic…

    No doubt there are more

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