Feast of Eliza Sibbald Alderson and John Bacchus Dykes (March 17)   Leave a comment

Durham Cathedral

Above:  Durham Cathedral

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-D4-73178

Copyright Claimant = Detroit Publishing Company

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ELIZA SIBBALD DYKES ALDERSON (AUGUST 16, 1818-MARCH 18, 1889)

Poet and Hymn Writer

sister of

JOHN BACCHUS DYKES (MARCH 10, 1823-JANUARY 22, 1876)

Anglican Priest and Hymn Writer

With this post I add two saints–a sister and a brother–to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  The father of Eliza Sibbald Dykes Alderson and John Bacchus Dykes was a banker by profession an d a musician by hobby.  Eliza and John were also artistic.  Eliza had gifts in language and painting.  John became his parish’s organist (at Hull, England) at age ten.  Both of them contributed to English hymnody.

Eliza  married the Reverend W. T. Alderson.  She left a fine legacy, one which includes twelve hymns.  Among them is “And Now, Beloved Lord, Thy Soul Resigning” (1868), which her brother asked her to compose.  Various versions of this Good Friday hymn exist.  Lest one think that hymnals published since the late 1960s have a monopoly on revising hymn texts, even the Scottish Presbyterian Church Hymnary from the 1920s includes an altered text.

John had a successful career as a musician and composer and a controversial career as a priest.  He studied music at Cambridge (1843-1847) before becoming an Anglican priest.  He served at two congregations before arriving at Durham Cathedral, where he wrote many of his almost 300 hymn tunes.  He received a Doctor of Music degree from the University of Durham.  Then he became the Vicar of St. Oswald’s Church, Durham, the following year.  He served that church for the rest of his life.  There, at St. Oswald’s, Dykes needed a second priest–a curate–for his growing congregation.  Thus the problems started in 1873, for Dykes was a High Churchman and his bishop was not.

These matters are unimportant to most contemporary Episcopalians and Anglicans.  So a priest wears a colored stole, people bow to high altars, and someone places candles on a high altar without controversy.  We have become accustomed to these practices.  But the Oxford Movement, of which we are beneficiaries, was very controversial at the time.  Many Low Church Anglicans thought that the Roman Catholic revival in The Church of England and the larger Anglican Communion was undesirable at best and Satanic at worst.  Thus Victorian Episcopalians and Anglicans argued among themselves harshly over candles, kneeling, and colored stoles the way many of his denounce each other over homosexuality these days and some of us still argue regarding the ordination of women.  The topics which prompt vitriolic arguments in one age will seem quite minor in a later century.

Dykes was a High Churchman; his bishop was not.  The Bishop agreed to add a curate so long as that person:

  1. never wore a colored stole (Black was the traditional color for Anglican stoles),
  2. never had “anything to do with incense,” and
  3. never stood “with his back to the congregation except when ordering the Bread.”

Dykes appealed to the Court of the Queen’s Bench, in London, in 1874.  He lost; the Court affirmed the Bishop’s authority.  The priest’s biographers agreed that the shock of this verdict, combined with the stress of the conflict, killed him two years later.

Dykes was one of the greatest composers of English hymns.  His list of hits is quite impressive.  Consider, O reader, this incomplete list:

  • Nicaea, the tune for “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God Almighty;”
  • Dominus Regit Me, the tune for “The King of Love My Shepherd Is;”
  • St. Agnes, a tune for “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee;”
  • Vox Dilecti, one tune for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say;” and
  • Melita, the tune for “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

Eliza also had an unpleasant end.  All that I could find out about her demise is that, as James Moffatt wrote in his 1927 companion volume to the Scottish Presbyterian Church Hymnary,

The last years of her life were passed under much suffering.  (page 249)

She died at Heath, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, on March 18, 1889, just over thirteen years after her famous brother’s death.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men,

our ancestors in their generations….

There were…those who composed musical tunes,

or put verses in writing….

All of them were the pride of their times.

Some of them have left behind a name,

so that others declare their praise.

But of others there is no memory;

they have perished as though they had never existed,

they have become as though they had never been born,

they and their children after them.

But these were also godly men,

whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten ….

–Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1, 3a, 5, 7-10 (New Revised Standard Version)

Eliza seems relatively forgotten; I have not found her work in contemporary (to me) hymnals.  (I have not, of course, searched every extant contemporary hymnal.)  But John’s work–at least some of it–remains popular with hymnal committees.  Perhaps Eliza has become as though she had never existed and successive generations of hymnals include fewer John Bacchus Dykes tunes, but this brother and this sister were righteous.  May we who live in a time later than theirs remember them with honor.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 16, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VICTIMS OF THE HAITI EARTHQUAKE, 2010

THE FEAST OF GEORGE AND LILLIAN WILLOUGHBY, QUAKER PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PACHOMIUS, FATHER OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNAL MONASTIC LIFE

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST

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Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness:

You have shown us the splendor of creation in the work of your servants

Eliza Sibbald Dykes Alderson and John Bacchus Dykes.

Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder,

that our eyes may behold your glory,

and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation

in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God,  now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 28:5-6 or Hosea 14:5-8 or 2 Chronicles 20:20-21

Psalm 96

Philippians 4:8-9 or Ephesians 5:18b-20

Matthew 13:44-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 61

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Revised on December 24, 2016

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