George Herbert

1593–1633

 

Simon Kershaw looks at the life of another holy person associated with the diocese – the famous English poet George Herbert, who was also both priest and pastor.

George Herbert is most-widely remembered today for his hymns, such as ‘The God of Love My Shepherd Is’, ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’, ‘Let All the World in Every Corner Sing’ and ‘Teach Me, My God and King’. In his day, he was known as a member of the aristocratic family of the Earls of Pembroke.

Born in 1593, he was sent to Westminster School, and then to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1620 he was appointed University Orator, whose duties included welcoming distinguished visitors with Latin speeches, and he seemed destined for a career as a courtier. But on the death of James I he sought ordination instead – an unusual step for a man of his rank and family background. He was first made deacon, and in 1626 appointed a canon of Lincoln Cathedral.

His stall at the cathedral was associated with Leighton Bromswold, then in the diocese of Lincoln, and although he had no duties there, he discovered that the building was derelict and he set about raising the money and restoring it.

The church stands today as a physical parallel to his poetry and theology. The pulpit and reading desk are given equal prominence, whilst only a very low screen separates the chancel from the nave of the cruciform building. The church was beautifully decorated, and its restoration indicates Herbert’s preference for proper, but reformed ceremonial, and a balance between preaching and sacrament, marking out a middle ground between conflicting doctrines – a position which came to be seen as quintessentially Anglican.

In 1630 Herbert was appointed rector of Bemerton, close to the family seat at Wilton, near Salisbury, and he ministered diligently until his death just three years later in 1633. His manuscripts were left to his friend Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, and it was Ferrar who edited them for publication, ensuring Herbert’s fame as a theological poet and hymn writer.

The Church commemorates George Herbert on 27th February, the date of his death, and the date Dr Rowan Williams chose for his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003.

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George Herbert

Pulpit & Reading Desk, Leighton Bromswold Church