George Herbert and the architecture of Anglican worship

George Herbert and the architecture of Anglican worship

Davidson, Clifford


tinctions, while for him the former excludes the more strictly “Reformed” religion of Calvin’s followers in Scotland, Switzerland, Holland, and France who jettisoned the liturgy which Cranmer’s Prayer Book had saved for England. The term “catholic” for Herbert and others of his time meant a religion in touch with the church fathers, especially St. Augustine, whose doctrine of divine grace had also been the core of Luther’s thought, but it also signified a religious practice that drew its substance from the canonical hours, the mass (but not as sacrifice, and not involving transubstantiation), and even from Eastern Orthodoxy.3 While not a Laudian, Herbert also cannot be reduced to the Calvinism that Daniel W Doerksen, for example, has recently attributed to him.4

been simulated by full leather body stockings.7 There is, however, no reason to see “The British Church” as specifically Laudian, since what the poet celebrates about Anglicanism is its stripping away of the superstition which he saw in Roman rites at the same time that the iconoclasm and rejection of the liturgy in Reformed worship are eschewed.

tolerant and in politics on the side of peaceableness. “As a churchman, he belonged to no party,” George Watson has commented,15 but, at least in these earlier poems, written when he was in his late twenties and before Charles I came to the throne, he could be quite passionate about the need for an ordered liturgical experience if people are not to descend to a Hobbesian state of nastiness and brutishness.16

Walton’s description of Herbert’s practices at Bemerton, in spite of his romanticizing of the record, is probably reasonably accurate in that it presents a clergyman concerned to attend to the canonical hours daily as established by the Church of England in the morning and afternoon and to celebrate the feasts, including Christmas, the Circumcision, Epiphany, Candlemas, the Annunciation, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and other holy days, established in the calendar (see Works, pp. 234-239). Herbert also recommends giving careful attention to the appropriate gestures in worship; his parishioners were to be instructed to kneel, bow, and stand at the appointed places in the liturgy, which is depicted as the epitome of order– an ideal that, we suspect, could not always be perfectly achieved in the actual physical circumstances in the churches at Bemerton and Fugglestone.


of Common Prayer following communion,26 which Herbert understood as somehow involving the real presence of the deity in the elements of bread and wine (see “The H. Communion” in the Williams manuscript, omitted from The Temple) and thus suggesting the interpenetration of time and eternity. Positioned at the end of “The Church,” the song of the angels indicates that “Love (III)” should likewise be understood as a poem about an earthly experience that also participates in eternal realities, both the cyclic (monthly) participation in the eucharist and the linear ending of all history in bliss. Spatially, the traditional location of the one was in the chancel or choir of the church, and the other was indeed beyond space, in eternity, which implies the transcendence of both time and space.

“The Crosse” is generally accepted as referring to Herbert’s appointment as a prebendary of Leighton Bromswold, since the other churches-Bemerton and Fugglestone-that he would later sense after his ordination as a priest were not cruciform; Leighton Bromswold has transepts (each approximately 18 by 20 feet) in addition to chancel (46 feet in length) and nave (58 feet in length).30 His installation as prebend of Leighton Ecclesia occurred July 5, 1626, by proxy, at Lincoln Cathedral. His duties did not necessitate residency.31 However, he took a keen interest in the church, dedicated to St. Mary, where he determined to use his wealth and influence “[t]o set [Christ’s] honour up, as our designe” (“The Crosse,” line 6). This project was apparently suggested to him by his friend Nicholas Ferrar.32 Walton reports in his life of Herbert that upon his appointment “the greatest part of the Parish Church was faln down, and that of it which stood, was so decayed, so little, and so useles, that the Parishioners could not meet to perform their Duty to God in publick prayer and praises.”33 Instead, they had “to use my lord duke’s great hall for their prayers and preachings,” for, “though there had been gotten a brief for the repairing of it, the cost estimates to be at the least two thousand pounds and collections yet made, the money, not being above [blank] could in no way help the matter.”34 When, with financial assistance also from members of his family and his friends, Herbert took up the project of “Re-edification,”

useful, might agree like Brethren, and have an equal honour and estimation.35

Such appreciation for the church and its fabric would have been seen as extremely unusual for a prebend or indeed for any clergyman at this time-a time when very little church building was being done. It has been suggested that the church at Leighton Bromswold may have been the largest church rebuilt during the early or middle part of the seventeenth century in England, a period notorious for neglect of church buildings (see fig. 1).36 Traditionally the chancel had been the concern of the clergy, and the maintenance of the nave had been the responsibility of parishioners. Herbert’s energies went into the whole church, the nave and transepts as well as the chancel. As John Ferrar reported in his biography of his brother Nicholas, “a handsome and uniform and, as the country termed it, a fine neat church was erected, inside and outside finished, not only to the parishioners’ own comfort and joy, but to the admiration of all men how such a structure should be raised and brought to pass by Mr. Herbert.”37

More would be known about the reconstruction of the church if Herbert’s letter of March 1632 to Nicholas Ferrar had been copied in full in the manuscript in the Cambridge University Library43 that contains John Ferrar’s collection of biographical materials concerning his brother. Unfortunately, instead of the descriptive matter we would like to have had, the copyist wrote: “So he goes on in his discourse of the building of the Church, in such & such a forme as Nicholas] F[errar] advised, dr letting N.F. know, all he had, & would doe, to gett moneys to proceed in it” (Works, p. 378). A second surviving letter thanks Nicholas Ferrar for his assistance at Leighton Bromswold, but again the specifics ` for the ordering of things, to that business” are omitted (Works, p. 379). Herbert’s rebuilding program thus involved a close collaboration with Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding. He himself did not direct the actual work, for the task of supervision was apparently left to John Ferrar, who wrote to his brother Nicholas in 1632: “We have 18 Masons and Labrores at worke at Layton Church and we shall have this weeke 10 Carpenters.”44

ably was responsible for the removal of the wainscot.47 On the other hand, the elaborate lectern, the pulpit, the low screen separating chancel and nave, and the uniform seating remain. If the steps up to the altar were part of the original design agreed upon by Herbert and Nicholas Ferrar, they would have added a Laudian feature that was particularly disliked by Puritans of all types, but of course especially by the most radical sort.48 During the 1640s, the iconoclast William Dowsing went about Cambridgeshire and East Anglia not only smashing painted glass windows and ordering wall paintings to be covered over even if their only offense was the display of the name “Jesus,” but also insisting on lowering chancels which had been recently raised to comply with Archbishop Laud’s injunctions.49

found anathema.53 There were apparently no religious pictures or paintings and no crucifix, though clearly Nicholas Ferrar-and probably Herbert also-had no objection to depictions of the crucified Christ.54 In spite of the quasi-monastic piety of the Ferrar family in observing the canonical hours and even in walking to the chapel twoby-two in the manner of monks or nuns, they were, like Herbert, not of the Laudian party, and described themselves as both Puritan and Protestant-designations that Lynette R. Muir and John A. White consider related to “Nicholas’ political stance rather than his ecclesiastical position. “55


My musick shall finde thee, and ev’ry string shall have its attribute to sing; That all together may accord in thee, And prove one God, one harmonic. (lines 39-42)

Thereupon Herbert was said to have “playa and sung” a stanza from his poem “Sunday”-the stanza which asserted that on this day the gate or door of heaven “stands ope” (line 32).

Joseph Summers notes that approximately a quarter of Herbert’s poems in The Temple concern music in some way,63 and in general the understanding of sacred song in the poems implied the quality of joy which also appears in descriptions of worship at Little Gidding.64 So too Richard Hooker had commented about “musical harmonie whether by instrument or by voice” that it reflected the most divine aspect of a person; further, some “draweth to a marvelous grave and sober mediocritie,” while other music “carryeth as it were into ecstasies, fillinge the minde with an heavenlie joy and for the time in a maner severinge it from the bodie.”65 As such it would be more than “an ornament to Gods service” or merely a pleasurable experience “which, mingled with heavenly mysteries, causeth the smoothnes and softnes of that which toucheth the care to conveye as it were by stelth the treasure of good things into mans minde.”66 Herbert had a more significant program in mind for sacred song and instrumental music performed within the acoustical confines of the church building, which he conceived primarily as a space for singing, praying, and listening to the proclamation of the Word in readings and sermon.

which was due to rival candidates for the position of tutor to the choristers supported by Bishop John Davenant and Dr. John Bowle, the dean-a conflict that was appealed all the way up to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King himself and yet not settled.67 When Herbert arrived at Bemerton the matter of the teacher of the choristers was not yet resolved, so the music would necessarily have proceeded without them until the appointment of Giles Tompkins was settled. Nevertheless, in the interim instrumental music, including organ and brass, was not stifled, and when at full strength, the singers would have numbered twelve, including six vicars choral and six lay singing men (missing the teacher to the choristers), in addition to the organist.68 Absenteeism apparently was a problem, however, and there were also complaints about the quality of the music, as Archbishop Laud’s visitation in 1634 would reveal,69 and as indicated in a 1637 order to the singing men and vicars choral that under penalty of a fine of 3s 4d they should have in hand their parts in anthems “and the organist uppon the same penaltie be ready and perfect in the organ part.”70

with more elaborate settings or chanted, thus taking full advantage of the resonance of the cathedral structure. Herbert did not object to psalm singing, and highly recommended the practice among the laity in his A Priest to the Temple (Works, p. 248), but, in contrast to parish church practice, he found his greatest pleasure in cathedral usage. Psalms were imbedded in sung services, usually set in a functional style but sometimes utilizing an elaborated chant style such as one finds in Byrd’s “Special Psalms.”73 Likewise, as indicated above, anthems were also expected, though the repertoire at Salisbury in the early 1630s is not to my knowledge known.74 It is reported by John Aubrey, however, that the cathedral funeral service was sung for Herbert by the choristers, singing men, and vicars choral at little Bemerton church; the date was March 3, 1633, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.75 The choristers, now being taught by Giles Tompkins, included one Francis Sambroke who would become a lawyer in adulthood.76


* Clifford Davidson is professor of English and medieval studies at Western Michigan University. He is the author of Baptism, the Three Enemies, and T S. Eliot, and is editor, with Pamela King, of a new edition of the true Coventry mysteries.

Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Fall 2002

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