ABIDE WITH ME – COMPOSER WAS A CURATE IN COUNTY WEXFORD
It has been sung all over the world, at football finals and funerals, at Remembrance Day services and even at the opening of Summer Olympics.
Doris Day recorded it and it has popped up in many films and television series like Lost, Doc Martin, and Home and Away.
It has been the favourite of royalty and even touched the heart of Mahatma Gandhi.
Many people know the words by heart given how often it is sung at funerals and the comfort in its lyrics, but did you know that the man who wrote it, Henry Francis Lyte, was once a curate in County Wexford, in the south-east corner of this diocese?
Yes, he was a curate in Wexford for three years – from 1815 to 1818. There is a plaque erected in his memory in Taghmon church and he also preached frequently in Killurin church, about nine miles from there.
During that time the rector of Killurin parish, the Reverend Abraham Swanne, was a lasting influence on Lyte’s life and ministry.
Lyte wrote many hymns during his lifetime, much of which was spent in Brixham, England. He had always loved the musical side of worship.
While it is not absolutely certain, it is believed that Abide With Me was written in 1820 when Francis was staying with the Hore family in County Wexford and had visited an old friend, William Augustus Le Hunte, who was dying.
As Francis sat with the dying man, William kept repeating the phrase ‘Abide With Me…’ ‘Abide with Me…’
After leaving William’s bedside Francis Lyte wrote the hymn and gave a copy of it to William’s family.
The belief is that when Lyte felt his own end approaching twenty-seven years later he thought then of the lines he had written so many years before.
The Biblical link for the hymn is Luke 24:29 where the disciples asked Jesus to abide with them for it is toward evening and the day is spent…
Lyte made the hymn more emotionally powerful by using his friend’s more personal phrasing ‘Abide with Me’. With each verse ending with that call the hymn makes a sustained appeal for God’s constant presence in our lives.
The hymn was sung for the very first time at Lyte’s funeral – a fitting tribute to the man who had written it and many other distinctive hymns including Praise my soul, the King of Heaven.
He died two hundred years ago on November 20th, 1847 in Nice after his ill-health had required him to live for several years in warmer climes.
While he wrote a tune for the hymn, the tune we sing it most to is Eventide by William Henry Monk.
Special thanksgiving services to mark Francis Henry Lyte’s bi-centenary were held in Taghmon and Killurin churches. Both churches are in Wexford and Kilscoran Union of Parishes.
Research: Canon Arthur Minion and the late Evelyn Miller
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When others helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.