Lead, Kindly Light
Lead, Kindly Light is a hymn with words written in 1833 by John Henry Newman as a poem titled "the Pillar of Cloud". In some hymnals, one may find a fourth verse added by Edward H Bickersteth Jr, Bishop of Exeter. It is usually sung to the tune Lux Benigna, composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1865, to Alberta by William H Harris, or as a choral anthem by John Stainer (1886). Arthur Sullivan also did a setting, Lux in Tenebris, which Ian Bradley praises as a "much more sensitive and honest setting of Newman's ambiguity and expressons of doubt" than Dykes' "steady, reassuring" rhythms.
As a young priest, Newman became sick while in Italy and was unable to travel for almost three weeks. In his own words:
- Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, "I have a work to do in England." I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, Lead, Kindly Light, which have since become so well known.
Notable occasions relating to hymn
The largest mining disaster in the Durham coalfield in England, was at West Stanley Colliery, known locally as "The Burns Pit", when 168 men and boys lost their lives as the result of two underground explosions at 3:45pm on Tuesday 16 February 1909. In the Towneley Seam 63 lay dead, in the Tilley Seam 18 lay dead, in the Busty Seam 33 lay dead and in the Brockwell Seam 48 lay dead. But incredibly, there were still men alive underground. A group of 34 men and boys in the Tilley Seam had found a pocket of clean air. They were led by Deputy Mark Henderson. Sadly a few of them panicked and left the group, they died instantly after inhaling the poison gas. The remainder sat in almost total darkness, when one of them began humming the Hymn "Lead Kindly Light". In no time at all. the rest of the miners joined in with the words, "Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom, lead thou me on, The night is dark, and I am far away from home". This was probably sung to the tune "Sandon" by CH Purdy, popular with miners in the Durham coalfield. Before the hymn ended, young Jimmy Gardner died of injuries. These 26 men were rescued after 14 hours, four others were later rescued.
Lead, Kindly Light was sung by a soloist on the RMS Titanic during a hymn-singing gathering led by Rev. Ernest C. Carter, shortly before the ocean liner struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912. The hymn was also sung aboard one of the Titanic's lifeboats when the rescue ship Carpathia was sighted the following morning. It was suggested by one of the occupants, Noëlle, Countess of Rothes.
Lead, Kindly Light is also the motto for the Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, The Little flower Higher Secondary School, Salem, Tamil Nadu, India and for Saundararaja Vidhyalaya, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, India.
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John Henry Newman (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890)
- Stainer, Sir John (ed.) (1898). "The Church Hymnary". Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, London & New York: Henry Frowde. pp. Appendix 11.
- Bradley, Ian. Lost Chords and Christian Soldiers: The Sacred Music of Arthur Sullivan. London: SCM Press. p. 73.
- Corrie Ten Boom. The Hiding Place. USA: Bantam Books, 1974. pp. 190. Paperback
- Lynch, Don; Marschall, Ken (1997). Titanic - An Illustrated History (2nd edition ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 77. ISBN 0-340-56271-4.
- Kansas City Star, July 31, 1918.
- Thomas Hardy. Far From The Madding Crowd. London: Penguin, 1994. pp. 361-2.
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