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Monday, 22 August 2016

John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale was born on January 24, 1818 to the Revd Cornelius Neale and Susanna Neale. He was named after the 17th century Puritan cleric and hymn writer John Mason, of whom his mother was a descendant.

He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where despite being said to be the best classical scholar in his year his lack of ability in mathematics prevented him taking an honours degree.

Neale was ordained in 1841 and was a leading light of the Oxford Movement, which sought to bring Catholic practices into Anglicanism, Neale was so displeased his congregations that, on various occasions, they accused him of being a Vatican 'secret agent', physically attacked him at a nun's funeral, stoned him, and threatened to burn him out of house and home.

John Mason Neale

Neale is best known as a hymn writer and, especially, translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and medieval hymns translated from Latin and Greek.The English Hymnal (1906) contains 63 of his translated hymns and six original hymns by Neale. His translations include: "All Glory, Laud and Honour," "A Great and Mighty Wonder" and "O come, O come, Emmanuel."

John Mason Neale was a prolific reader and one day he  came across a long narrative German poem about Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia, who in 935 gained control of Bohemia and was renowned for his piety. A section in which the king walked out into the snow to rescue a poor swineherd particularly struck him. Neale adapted the poem into English and borrowed the tune to go with it from "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Spring has unwrapped her flowers"), a 13th century spring carol. "Good King Wenceslas" was included in a 1853 publication Carols for Christmas-tide, by Neale and the Rev. Thomas Helmore (vice-Principal of St. Mark's College, Chelsea).

The story inspired much more than a carol. Neale was so touched by the quality of mercy in the tale of Wenceslas he read that he founded the Society of St Margaret, which still offers care to the poor in their homes.

Sources Daily Telegraph, my entry for

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