January 24, 1818, Conduit Street, London, England.

August 6, 1886, East Grinstead (near London), England.

St. Swithun’s Church, East Grinstead, England.


We know John Mason Neale today as a hymnographer, the translator or adapter of ancient and medieval hymns. It is by the hymns below and similar hymns that most of us know Neale, if we know him at all. But Neale’s achievements in other areas as well deserve our recognition.

Neale was born in London, England, the son of a clergyman, his father dying when he was five years old. At Cambridge (1836-40), Neale became a High Churchman, and developed a fascination with church architecture. Even at this youthful age, Neale participated in the catholic revival of the Established Church, as he and some friends founded the Cambridge Camden Society of antiquarians. Their periodical promptly addressed itself to the dilapidated condition of many English church buildings; their recommendations were very influential in the Victorian campaign of church construction, and they came to have many supporters in Church ranks. Americans apt to think affectionately of the tastefulness and charm of English churches will be impressed by the descriptions of ruinous buildings encountered by Neale and his contemporaries. Neale also crusaded against the ugly stoves that were placed in some churches to heat them. One issue of The Ecclesiologist, for example, recorded a large Arnott stove in the middle of the chancel, whose flue rose to the height of the priest and crossed his face before exiting the building via a hole in the glass of the north window. Neale especially raged against the high walled box pews—pues or pens, the Society called them—where wealthy families sequestered themselves in the midst of the common people. In their pews, they might recline at their ease upon sofas, and one local aristocrat even ate lunch during the service.

The Cambridge Society championed the cause of Victorian Gothic. The edition of a medieval text on ecclesiastical symbolism that Neale and a friend prepared set forth their convictions about architectural details.

Neale’s health prevented his remaining a parish priest (he was ordained in May 1842), but, in his semi-invalidism, he had much time for antiquarian and scholarly endeavor. From May 1846 on, he was Warden of Sackville College, an institution resembling that of a fictional Victorian clergyman, Anthony Trollope’s Warden, Septimus Harding. Like Harding, Neale gave much thought to church music.

Neale held that the hymns of Isaac Watts and other popular composers imparted erroneous doctrine, as well as offending against taste. So in 1842, for example, Neale produced Hymns for Children. However, aside from his carol Good King Wenceslas, it is not Neale’s original compositions that are most widely recognized, but his translations and adaptations of ancient and medieval works, which he worked on throughout his life. The various editions of the annotated hymnal he and his associates prepared—the Hymnal Noted—and his hymns of the Orthodox churches have contributed hymns such as those listed above. It is estimated Neale and his collaborators produced over 400 hymns, sequences and carols.

Another object of Neale’s interest was the history of the Eastern Churches. In 1847, Neale’s book on the Patriarchate of Alexandria appeared. In 1850, it was followed by a General Introduction to the Orthodox church of the East. A third volume, edited by George Williams, appeared in 1873.

One aspect of Neale’s outlook not dwelt upon much by his biographers is his conviction that divine judgment was the lot of those who appropriated property that had been consecrated. With an associate, in 1846 he published, anonymously, an updated edition of Sir Henry Spelman’s History of Sacrilege. The book shows how disasters, the failure of the male line, and/or great excesses of moral depravity came upon persons who took land that had been given to the Church, or their successors. When such lands had belonged to the Church, revenues from these lands had been employed to feed the hungry as well as to support the sometimes luxurious way of life of certain clergymen. Here we see the antiquarian and the man of Christian compassion united.

Such a union is very evident in Neale’s foundation of the Society of St. Margaret, one of the first Anglican conventual sisterhoods (1855). As Warden of Sackville College at East Grinstead, Neale came to know the poverty of some of the nearby villagers. Fever victims might die unattended. So his sisters of charity began their work, with Neale as their pastor-confessor-administrator. However, the sisterhood was verbally and even physically attacked as a wedge of Romanism in the English Church. In 1857, the Lewes Riot occurred, instigated by an Evangelical clergyman whose daughter had been one of the Sisters, and who had died of scarlet fever, bequeathing 400 pounds to the Society. Neale was used to opposition by then. Years before the Society’s foundation, Neale had been inhibited by the Bishop of Chichester from exercising his priestly duties in the village, evidently on account of the bishop’s resentment of Neale’s church furnishings, etc., at Sackville College.

John Mason Neale had his lighter side, too, as evidenced by a joke he once played on John Keble. As related by Neale’s associate Gerard Moultrie and quoted in A. G. Lough, The Influence of John Mason Neale (London, SPCK 1962, p. 95):

[Neale] was invited by Mr. Keble and the Bishop of Salisbury to assist them with their new Hymnal, and for this reason he paid a visit to Hursley Parsonage [Keble’s residence]…[Keble] related that having to go to another room to find some papers he was detained a short time. On his return, Dr. Neale said, Why Keble! I thought you told me that the Christian Year was entirely original! Yes, he answered, it certainly is. Then how comes this? And Dr. Neale placed before him the Latin of one of Keble’s hymns for a Saint’s day—I think it was for St. Luke’s. Keble professed himself utterly confounded. There was the English, which he knew that he had made, and there too no less certainly was the Latin, with far too unpleasant a resemblance to his own to be fortuitous. He protested that he had never seen this original, no, not in all his life! etc. etc. After a few minutes, Neale relieved him by owning that he had just turned it into Latin in his absence.

Never in his lifetime was Neale adequately appreciated in his own church. Neale’s Doctor of Divinity degree was conferred by Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1860. At Neale’s funeral the highest ranking clergymen were Orthodox. Neale could never have guessed how much he accomplished for the church and for generations of Christians who would sing the hymns he gave them.

  1. With Thee, O Lord, Begins the Year
  1. Again the Lord’s Own Day Is Here
  2. All Glory, Laud, and Honor
  3. Alleluia, Song of Gladness
  4. Almighty God, Who from the Flood
  5. And Wilt Thou Pardon, Lord
  6. Around the Throne of God a Band
  7. Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid?
  8. As Jonah, Issuing from His Three Days’ Tomb
  9. Be Present, Holy Trinity
  10. Blessed City, Heavenly Salem
  11. Blessed Feasts of Blessèd Martyrs
  12. Blessèd Savior, Who Hast Taught Me
  13. Brief Life Is Here Our Portion
  14. Christ Is Born! Tell Forth His Fame!
  15. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
  16. Christ’s Own Martyrs, Valiant Cohort
  17. Christian, Dost Thou See Them?
  18. Come, Holy Ghost, with God the Son
  19. Come, Thou Holy Paraclete
  20. Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth
  21. Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Anthem
  22. Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
  23. Creator of the Stars of Night
  24. Day, A Day of Glory!, A
  25. Day Is Past and Over, The
  26. Day, O Lord, Is Spent, The
  27. Day of Resurrection, The
  28. Dewy Freshness That the Furnace Flings, The
  29. Draw Nigh and Take the Body of the Lord
  30. Eternal Gifts of Christ the King, The
  31. Eternal Glory of the Sky
  32. Eternal Monarch, King Most High
  33. Fast, as Taught by Holy Lore, The
  34. Father of Peace, and God of Consolation
  35. Fierce Was the Wild Billow
  36. Foe Behind, the Deep Before, The
  37. For Thee, O Dear, Dear Country
  38. From Church to Church
  39. From God the Father, Virgin-Born
  40. From Lands That See the Sun Arise
  41. Gabriel, from the Heaven Descending
  42. Gabriel’s Message
  43. God the Father! Whose Creation
  44. God Whom Earth, and Sea, and Sky, The
  45. Good Christian Men, Rejoice
  46. Good King Wenceslas
  47. Great and Mighty Wonder, A
  48. Great Forerunner of the Morn, The
  49. Heavenly Word Proceeding Forth, The
  50. Here Is Joy for Every Age
  51. Him, of the Father’s Very Essence
  52. Holy Children Boldly Stand, The
  53. Holy Father, Thou Hast Taught Me
  54. How Vain the Cruel Herod’s Fear
  55. Hymn for Conquering Martyrs Raise, The
  56. If There Be That Skills to Reckon
  57. In Days of Old on Sinai
  58. Into the Dim Earth’s Lowest Parts Descending
  59. Jerusalem the Golden
  60. Jesu! Names All Names Above
  61. Jesu, the Father’s Only Son
  62. Jesu! The Very Thought Is Sweet!
  63. Jesu, the Virgins’ Crown
  64. Joy Dawned Again on Easter Day
  65. Lamb’s High Banquet We Await, The
  66. Let Our Choir New Anthems Raise
  67. Let Us Now Our Voices Raise
  68. Let Us Rise in Early Morning
  69. Lift Up, Lift Up Your Voices Now
  70. Light’s Abode, Celestial Salem
  71. Light’s Glittering Morn Bedecks the Sky
  72. Lo! Now Is Our Accepted Day
  73. Lord and King of All Things, The
  74. Maker of Earth, to Thee Alone
  75. Merits of the Saints, The
  76. Now That the Daylight Fills the Sky
  77. Now to Our Savior Let Us Raise
  78. O Blest Creator of the Light
  79. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  80. O God, Creation’s Secret Force
  81. O God, of All the Strength and Power
  82. O God of Truth, O Lord of Might
  83. O God, Thy Soldiers’ Crown and Guard
  84. O God, We Raise Our Hearts to Thee
  85. O Happy Band of Pilgrims
  86. O Lord of Hosts, Whose Glory Fills
  87. O Merciful Creator, Hear
  88. O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing!
  89. O Thou Who by a Star Didst Guide
  90. O Thou Who Through This Holy Week
  91. O Trinity of Blessèd Light
  92. O Unity of Threefold Light
  93. O Very God of Very God
  94. O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be
  95. O Wondrous Mystery, Full of Passing Grace
  96. O Wondrous Sight!
  97. Of the Father’s Love Begotten
  98. Our Father’s Home Eternal
  99. Raise, Raise Thine Eye a Little Way
  100. Rod of the Root of Jesse
  101. Royal Banners Forward Go, The
  102. Royal Day That Chaseth Gloom
  103. Safe Home, Safe Home in Port!
  104. Saint of God, Elect and Precious
  105. Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle
  106. Stars of the Morning
  107. Strain Upraise of Joy and Praise, The
  108. Th’Abyss of Many a Former Sin
  109. That Eastertide with Joy Was Bright
  110. That Fearful Day
  111. Thee, O Christ, the Father’s Splendor
  112. They Whose Course on Earth Is O’er
  113. Those Eternal Bowers
  114. Thou Hallowed Chosen Morn of Praise
  115. To the Name of Our Salvation
  116. To Thee Before the Close of Day
  117. Triumphs of the Saints, The
  118. We Have Not Seen, We Cannot See
  119. When Christ’s Appearing Was Made Known
  120. Wingèd Herald of the Day, The
  121. With Christ We Share a Mystic Grave
  122. World Is Very Evil, The
  123. Yesterday, with Exultation