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Saturday, 15 August 2015


The first recorded instance of communal singing in church took place in 385 AD during at the Milan Basilica when the congregation had locked themselves inside. The Arian Empress, Justina, had demanded Bishop Ambrose's basilica be handed over for Arian worship, sending imperial troops to fulfil this by starving the distressed congregation out.

On Palm Sunday, Ambrose preached a sermon about not giving up churches. In order to calm the people, the musical bishop taught them to sing the hymns he had composed and he split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. Hearing this, the hearts of the soldiers softened, they joined in the singing and ended the siege.

Legend holds that Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious, on hearing Theodulf of Orléans (750-821) sing "All Glory, Laud and Honour", released Theodulf from exile and ordered the hymn be sung every Palm Sunday.

The world's first Protestant collection of hymns and psalms in the vernacular was published in Prague by Moravian church in 1501.

Elisabeth Cruciger's hymn "Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn" was the only song by a female author published in the Lutheran 1524 hymnal Erfurt Enchiridion.

After the mid-sixteenth century Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church abolished all instrumentation in church except the organ. All secular elements such as harmony and folk melodies were also prohibited.

As women were banned from singing in Christian churches, the desire for adult female voices led to the practice of castration.

The Protestant Reformation produced a great burst of hymn writing and in the seventeenth century the dissenting groups, in particular the Baptists began using them in congregational worship. Most of these hymns were either taken directly from scripture, especially Psalms, or from already existing poems.

In 1692 an 18-year-old English Non-conformist Isaac Watts (1674-1748) complained to his father that the hymns sung at church were tuneless. His father suggested he provide something better. The result was “Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” which is considered the birth of the English hymn. Isaac Watts went on to write over 750 hymns, and is recognized as the 'Father of English Hymnody'.

An innovation of the Church of England in the 1890s was the placing of hymn numbers on boards.

The words of the hymn "How Great Thou Art" were written in 1885 by the Rev. Carl Boberg, a Swedish evangelist, who set it to a Swedish folk melody. The hymn was translated into German then Russian and when an English missionary Stuart Hine, who was working in the Ukraine, heard a native congregation sing the Russian words, so entranced was he that he produced an English version. The hymn didn't really attain world-wide popularity until it was incorporated into the services of the Billy Graham Crusades in the 1950s. 

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