Monday, March 14, 2011

Irish Hymn Writer: Ce­cil Al­ex­an­der

With all of my searching for Irish hymns yesterday I stumbled upon an Irish lady who wrote many hymns and poetry. I was very intrigued by the number of her hymns that I recognized and by her life story.

Cecil Frances Alexander
She was born in Dublin, the daughter of Major John Humphreys and Elizabeth (née Reed). She began writing verse in her childhood. Her religious work was strongly influenced by her contacts with the Oxford Movement and in particular with John Keble, who edited one of her anthologies. By the 1840s she was already known as a hymn writer and her compositions were soon included in Church of Ireland hymnbooks.
Her book, Hymns for Little Children reached its 69th edition before the close of the nineteenth century. Some of her hymns, e.g. "All Things Bright and Beautiful", "There is a Green Hill Far Away" and the Christmas carol "Once in Royal David's City", are known by many millions of Christians the world over, as is her translation of “Saint Patrick's Breastplate”.
In Strabane in October 1850 she married the Anglican clergyman William Alexander, afterwards Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh. Her husband also wrote several books of poetry, of which the best known is St. Augustine's Holiday and other Poems.
She was also involved in charitable work. Money from her first publications had helped build the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, which was founded in 1846 in Strabane. The profits from "Hymns for Little Children" were donated to this school.

For more history on Mrs. Alexander check out:

Let's take a look at some of the many hymns she wrote:

St. Patrick's Breastplate
Words translated by Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, from St. Patrick's Loria, in 1889. Music is St. Pat­rick (Stan­ford), composed by Charles V. Stan­ford in 1902. This hymn is a bit hard to sing but it does contain all the words from

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Find all the verses and a MIDI of the tune at

All Things Bright And Beautiful
The text was written in Minehead in 1848 by Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander (from Dublin, Ireland) in the village of Dunster, and may have been inspired by a verse from S. T. Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - "He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all." The hymn was first published in Alexander's Hymns for Little Children.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

All words and MIDI of the various tunes can be found at

There Is A Green Hill Far Away
Al­ex­an­der wrote this hymn in 1847 as she sat up one night with her ser­i­ous­ly sick daugh­ter. Ma­ny times, tra­vel­ing to town to shop, she had passed a small grassy mound, just out­side the old ci­ty wall of Der­ry, Ire­land. It al­ways made her think of Cal­va­ry, and it came to mind as she wrote this hymn. She pub­lished it in her Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren in 1848.

Verse 1:
There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

O dearly, dearly, has He loved,
And we must love Him, too,
And trust in His redeeming blood,
And try His works to do.

Find all the words and a MIDI of the tune at

Jesus Calls Us
I know I've heard this hymn sung before but had completely forgotten about it! Words were penned by Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, published in Hymns for Pub­lic Wor­ship, by the So­ci­e­ty for the Pro­pa­ga­tion of Christ­ian Know­ledge, in 1852. Melody is Gal­i­lee (Jude), composed by Will­iam H. Jude in 1874.

Verse 1:
Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”

Verse 3:
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”

I love the words! Read all the verses and hear MIDI of the tune at

He Is Coming, He Is Coming
Words written by Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der in 1848. Melody is Lux Eoi, composed by Ar­thur S. Sul­li­van in 1874. I love the theme of this song, Christ coming again in His power and glory!

Verse 1:
He is coming, He is coming,
Not as once He came before,
Wailing Infant born in weakness
On a lowly stable floor;
But upon His cloud of glory,
In the crimson tinted sky,
Where we see the golden sunrise,
In the rosy distance lie.

Read all the verses and hear a MIDI of the tune at

Spirit Of God, That Moved Of Old
Words penned by Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, and published in Hymns, by the So­ci­e­ty for the Pro­pa­ga­tion of Christ­ian Know­ledge in 1852. Melody is Sol­dau, composed by Geyst­liche Ge­sangk Buch­leyn (Wit­ten­berg, Ger­ma­ny: 1524)

Verse 1:
Spirit of God, that moved of old
Upon the waters’ darkened face,
Come, when our faithless hearts are cold,
And stir them with an inward grace.

See all the words and music at

Once In Royal David's City
This is one of my family's favorite Christmas carols! It was originally written as poem by Cecil Frances Alexander before she was married. The carol was first published in 1848 in Miss Cecil Humphreys' hymnbook Hymns for little Children. A year later, the English organist Henry John Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.

Verse 1:
Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

Check out all the verses and the tune for this beautiful carol at

I really enjoyed doing this post and discovering so many delightful old hymns along the way! The Lord really gave Mrs. Alexander a gift with words! I'm going to have to memorize more of her hymns! I hope you also enjoyed the photos of Irish church doors, I just love old doors! I will be posting more Irish things later so be on the look out.

Which of these hymns are you not familiar with? Which of these hymns have you sung before?

Which of these church doors do you like best?



Anonymous said...

Another great post. I enjoyed learning more about Cecil Alexander and the hymns she penned. The hymns I have sung before are: All Things Bright And Beautiful, Jesus Calls Us, Once In Royal David's City (this one is my favorite) The rest I had never heard before. The church doors I found most striking were the ones just about the post on Once In Royal David's City. Thanks again for the time you spent posting these. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to the rest of your post for St. Patrick's Day. - Mom

Matthew said...

...and so a year after finding the Irish Hymns post, I find this one about an Irish hymn writer. I guess I must have missed this the first time around. :-)

Thomas Kelly was a prolific Irish hymn writer, some of which are still familiar to many today, such as "Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him" and "Look, Ye Saints! the Sight is Glorious."

Also, William Fullerton, author of "The Savior of the World" (also known as "I Cannot Tell"), was Irish-born and strongly influenced by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Seán said...

Enjoyed this blog and especially the C F Alexander article immensely, which just appeared as I was searching for an unusual Irish hymn via Google (which I failed to find)!

Church doors! Now, that's an interesting theme! Is the one with the lake in front at Dunlewey, Co. Donegal? Just a guess!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I was searching for an Irish hymn for Sunday the 17th of March when I found it. We will sing All Things Bright and Beautiful and tell about Cecil Alexander. Thanks!
ps I like the 2nd door...because it is open.
Barbara, Canada

Joy Books said...

Totally love this post. I'm so thankful for it because it brought me to your blogsite. I was looking for Irish hymns to put on bookmarks for our Irish holiday coming soon. Enjoyed all the information you gave. Thank you so much!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...