Reginald Heber

JRW. “Reginald Heber.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed January 27, 2020, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/r/reginald-heber.

Reginald Heber was born in 1783 and died in 1826. He was consecrated Bishop of Calcutta in June 1823, arriving in India in October of that year. His see covered all of British India and he pursued a caring and energetic episcopate, sometimes hindered by fever but travelling widely through all parts of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He founded Bishop’s College, Calcutta, and ordained the first Indian to take Anglican orders. After confirming forty-two people at Trichinopoly, South India, he died suddenly of a seizure while bathing. He was seen as an heroic martyr in the cause of missionary work, and his example was an inspiration to many others in the 19th century.

While some of Heber’s hymns appeared in the Evangelical Magazine and the Christian Observer between 1811 and 1816, most were published posthumously. Before his departure from England, he planned (together with Henry Hart Milman*) a volume of hymns arranged on the plan of the church’s year: this volume was eventually published as Hymns written and adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year by his widow in 1827. It included 57 hymns by Heber, more than half the total. He was one of the first people to conceive of hymns as integral to the liturgy and to Sunday worship within the Church of England, but he failed to convince church authorities to grant official permission for hymn-singing at regular Sunday services within his lifetime.

Heber’s sudden and untimely death in India made him a missionary hero, and helped to ensure that his advocacy of hymn singing within the Church of England was successful. His hymns are those of a poet of the Romantic period, and often contain lines of great beauty and mystery.