A Reflection on the life of Frances Ridley Havergal
The Author of Many Hymns and Poems
by Yvonne S. Waite




        Today has been a "delicious" day--to use FRANCES HAVERGAL'S terminology. I have finally had enough time to read every word sent to me by a missionary friend in England concerning Frances Havergal and her beloved ASTLEY PARISH. That beautiful church still stands in the village of Astley in Worcestershire, England. It was the parish in which her father ministered, and where Frances spent her early childhood. To be truthful, from her youthful description, I was surprised that the building was much larger than I supposed. I thought it was a smaller chapel. Frances Havergal spoke so lovingly about this church. It held many childhood memories for her. She reminisced about her days there, and knew she would be buried in that cemetery. I wondered if my friend had seen the parish house where she was born, or had it been destroyed long ago? Eagerly, I looked at each picture sent to me. There were pictures of the church, her grave, and that of her parents, as well as views of the quiet surroundings.


        I had a feel for the beauty of the area--and the loneliness, too. I tried to imagine life back in the 1800's when the child Frances walked those paths and climbed those stone-walled fences.
I was surprised at the "Catholic" historical background of the church. Surprised, too, at the antiquity of the Priory, being connected to the village of Astley for over 900 years. In 1195, Richard the Lion-Hearted granted the Abbey the royal charter, and in 1289 the church was dedicated. Also, it seemed as if the buildings and grounds were privately owned for many years. The church and property seemed to be given to various brave men by past kings in thankfulness for brave acts. It always amazed me that people lived, breathed, loved, and warred hundreds of years ago, and here we are in 2006--living, breathing, loving, and warring, too. Some things never change.

        It was very interesting that the church building itself had been preserved down through the centuries since 1289. That is the actual date of the dedication of the present church structure, which, by the way, had been changed and renovated several times since Frances Havergal's childhood. Even though the original building had disappeared through the years with only an arch or so left to view, the remains of those early years when knights walked the grounds, lie underneath the old rectory gardens. One could notice, if one were astute, parts of the original Norman nave and chancel.

        There seemed to be an interest in the nearby community as well as world-wide concern to preserve the building. I assume it is because of Frances Havergal's part of its history. Her words and writings are much loved by millions. Her hymns are sung weekly in churches today. One cannot help wondering how such a dedicated Bible-believing saint could come out of such a formal, historical church-setting! The longer she lived, the more she loved the Lord Jesus Christ and His Words. Nothing much in the church's history, that I read today, gave testimony to the early Bible-teaching from its pulpits. From my past research on her life, I remembered that Frances spoke highly of her Anglican rector-father, Rev. W. H. Havergal, and his sound teaching from the Holy Scriptures. She mentioned that all rectors did not hold to the faith like her father. I did not know until this present reading that he was called a "Canon."

        Is this parish a working-church today? There seemed to be a rector listed as late as 2001. I was also interested that Frances' sister, Marie Vernon Graham Havergal, was buried close by her sister and their parents. I remember reading of Marie and her devotion and care of her youngest sibling during her final days in Wales.
I can't help wondering about the DOMESDAY BOOK that is referred to often in Mr. Stephen Ross' history. It is rather an odd name for a history record. I didn't know about the Havergal College in Toronto, Canada. I wonder what kind of school it was. The trustees of the Astley Church must cherish their friendship as they permitted a picture of their college in their church display-case.


        I was happy to have in my hands the writings by Stephen Ross on Frances Ridley Havergal's life (1836-1879). She composed hymns such as Who Is On the Lord's Side, Like a River Glorious, and Take My Life and Let It Be. I have copies of her sister Marie's biography of her. When I was researching Frances' life, a few years ago, for my PORTRAIT OF FRANCES HAVERGAL's presentation, I read anything and everything about her life that I could find. There is very little written about her. So it was good to read the Ross review and learn new facts about her short life of forty-two years. In my research, I could never discover what illness she suffered as a child, nor the sicknesses that plagued her life most of her years. I assumed it was some kind of mental or emotional illness--because the exact ailment was never mentioned, except that she often had "fevers." It was mysterious. Because of sickness, Frances could not go to a formal school for any length of time. She was "home-schooled"--and that very well, indeed. The only-named illness I knew of, from my research, was the bout with typhoid fever she experienced a year or so before her death. It was a disease from which she never fully recovered.

        I was interested to learn she had a serious attack of erysipelas when she was fourteen. That was the year she had to leave Mrs. Teed's boarding school, The following year, at fifteen, she received Jesus Christ as her Saviour. Erysipelas is defined as: "an acute infectious disease of the skin or mucous membranes caused by a streptococcus and characterized by local inflammation and fever." Personally, I never heard of it. So my husband looked it up for me to see what the definition was. Then I looked for it in our Mayo Clinic Health Book. It was there. In 1874, Frances caught a fever after an enjoyable Switzerland vacation. The diagnosis was typhoid fever, the disease I had read about in my research several years ago.
I didn't know about Frances' last homecoming on May 21, 1879. It is very sad. Being extremely tired after church, she did not walk home, but rode a donkey. Young boys, eager to hear all she had to say to them about her King, the Lord Jesus Christ, followed her, learning as they walked. Frances was always teaching--even in her distresses. Little did anyone know that soon she would die of hepatitis.

        Personally, I was touched as I read of the agony of peritonitis which rapidly overtook her body. It was written that she was not afraid to die. She was eager to see Jesus face-to-face. She said, It was "so beautiful to go." When others grieved because of her intense pain, she whispered, "It's HOME the faster!" I was very moved by Frances Havergal's last words and moments. Her pain was overwhelming; yet, she praised the Lord Jesus and eagerly left this earthly place for her Heavenly Home. What an example-Christian!
I was so thankful for all the time my friend took to send me this Havergal information--all the pictures, the words, and their care for me. I wish I could have been there to see it all in person. It must have been moving, standing by her grave side. I remembered when I stood by Fanny Crosby's tombstone, I welled up with great emotion, for I had studied and portrayed her also. I remembered when I stood by my sister's grave, after an absence of more than thirty years, how I burst into unexpected tears. The emotions of her young death at twenty welled up within my soul and poured out in surprising, grieving tears!

        Dear friend, as the memory of that visit to Astley parish fills our minds, may God deeply enrich our lives. May He enable us to communicate the Lord Jesus Christ in a fuller, deeper way because of Frances Havergal's life. I suppose she had no idea the impact that her Christian testimony would have upon others through the ages. We never really know how and when we influence others, do we?

        I end this report with the closing words of our poetess. She whispered, "God's will is delicious; He makes no mistakes." As born-again Christians, we must believe this, for it is true.



If you want to find out more about Frances Havergal, you can get the following:
BFT #1417-T @ 10/$1.50 + S&H "A Portrait of Frances Havergal" (A 6-page tract)
BFT #1417VHS @ $15.00 + $5.00 S&H "A Portrait of Frances Havergal" with Y. S. Waite
BFT #1417TP @ $4.00 + $1.00 S&H A cassette on the "Portrait of Frances Havergal."




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