A hymn for Saint Oswald’s Day

The hymn In our day of thanksgiving is often sung on the occasion of a Patronal Festival.

It is also appropriate to be sung “in remembrance of past worshippers”.

The hymn was written by Revd William Henry Draper (1855-1933). He wrote a number of hymns, the best-known being All creatures of our God and King (an English translation of words from St Francis of Assisi). He served as curate and vicar at churches in Shrewsbury among other posts. He married three times; as well as being widowed twice, three of his sons died in WW1.

The tune St Catherine’s Court was composed by Richard Strutt (1848-1927). He was the son of the Second Baron Rayleigh and was educated at Winchester and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He worked for an American bank in London, and joined the London Stock Exchange. He served as Warden and Choirmaster for over three decades at St. John’s Church, Wilton Road, London. His interests were wide ranging: He was a Fellow of the Philharmonic, Horticultural, and Zoological Societies, served on the Council of the Corporation of the Church House, and was involved with the North China and Shantung Mission, the Gregorian Society, and the Church Music Society. This seems to be the only hymn tune of his that has been published.

St Catherine’s Court

IN our day of thanksgiving one psalm let us offer
For the saints who before us have found their reward;
When the shadow of death fell upon them, we sorrowed,
But now we rejoice that they rest in the Lord.

In the morning of life, and at noon, and at even,
He called them away from our worship below;
But not till his love, at the font and the altar,
Had girt them with grace for the way they should go.

These stones that have echoed their praises are holy,
And dear is the ground where their feet have once trod;
Yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims,
And still they were seeking the city of God.

Sing praise then, for all who here sought and here found him,
Whose journey is ended, whose perils are past:
They believed in the Light; and its glory is round them,
Where the clouds of earth’s sorrow are lifted at last.

Oswald was born into the Northumbrian Royal Family in 604, the son of Ethelfrith. When in 616 his uncle Edwin killed the king, the 12-year old Oswald fled to Scotand with his brothers and sister, and at St. Columba’s great Celtic monastery of Iona was converted to Christianity.

After the death of Edwin in 633 Oswald returned to Northumbria and was crowned king. The following year he fought and killed Cadwalla, king of the Welsh in the battle of Heavenfield, near Hexham. Oswald had a vision of Columba the night before the battle, in which he was told “Be strong and act manfully. Behold, I will be with thee. This coming night go out from your camp into battle, for the Lord has granted me that at this time your foes shall be put to flight and Cadwallon your enemy shall be delivered into your hands and you shall return victorious after battle and reign happily.”

Oswald later extended his kingdom southward and westward and invited St. Aidan to come from Iona to spread Christianity in this pagan area.

A monastery was founded in Lindisfarne which became a base for the missionary journeys of King and Bishop throughout the kingdom. Churches were built e.g. the foundation of the later York Minster; mission cells spread the Celtic traditions of St. Columba across northern England. Many villagers were converted, youths educated in monastic centres, the poor shepherds and cowherds gathered to hear the word of God, the sick were healed and the destitute fed and clothed.

Throughout his eight-year rule Oswald established law and order, and fought physically and spiritually to benefit his people In 642 he led his forces against King Penda of Mercia at the battle of Maserfeld* where he was killed and his body dismembered. His followers recovered his head and his brother, Oswy, sent the holy relics to Lindisfarne where it became an object of veneration during the life of St. Cuthbert.

Reginald of Durham recounts a miracle, saying that Oswald’s right arm was taken by a raven to an ash tree, which gave the tree ageless vigour; when the bird dropped the arm onto the ground, a spring emerged from the ground. Both the tree and the spring were, according to Reginald, subsequently associated with healing miracles. The raven is shown in the icon.

Oswald was canonised in 692 and his feast is kept on 5th August. During the Viking raids in 875 the monks fled from Lindisfarne and carried their relics with them, including the body of St. Cuthbert, the head of St. Oswald and the Lindisfarne Gospels through many flights and wanderings over many decades. Eventually, after nearly 200 years the relics were interred in Durham Cathedral.

*The site of the battle of Maserfeld is traditionally identified with Oswestry in Shropshire; arguments have been made for and against the accuracy of this identification.

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