Holy, holy, holy!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

This Trinity hymn was written by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) during his time as Vicar of Hodnet, Shropshire (1807-1823). It is the best known and most popular of the author's hymns, and was a favourite of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It was first published, posthumously, in A Selection of Psalms and Hymns for the Parish Church of Banbury (1826). The phrase 'Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee' has been amended in some hymn books to adapt the hymn for use at any time of day. However, all the major hymn books retain the original words, except for the end of the second verse where the autograph copy reads 'and ever art to be' in contrast to 'and evermore shalt be'.

The hymn is a metrical paraphrase of Revelation 4:8-11, which is part of the Epistle for Trinity Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer. The image of the glassy sea (verse 2, line 2) is from Revelation 4:6.

Tune - Nicæa

The tune Nicæa was composed for this hymn by the Revd John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876) for Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). Its name is taken from the Council of Nicæa, 325 AD, where the doctrine of the Trinity became recognised. The first and last lines have a remarkable similarity to Wachet Auf (Sleepers wake). Whilst both tunes could draw from the common tradition of catholic hymnody which became established in the 16th century, Nicæa was more probably inspired by the tune Trinity by John Hopkins to which Heber's hymn was set in 1850. Nicæa is regarded as Dykes's finest and has a timeless quality; it can be effectively sung at any reasonable speed. Unfortunately it is one of several tunes where congregations experience difficulty in the melody. To help, the brackets indicate a downward or same note in the melody:
'Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almigh (down) ty' (1st line),
'Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and Migh (same) ty' (3rd line).

Nigel Day

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 16th October 2005