THE MEMORY OF IT ALL
A Reflection on the life of Frances Ridley Havergal
The Author of Many Hymns and Poems
by Yvonne S. Waite
A NOSTALGIC LOOK AT ASTLEY CHURCH
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.
A CONCERNED LOOK AT FRANCES HAVERGAL
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
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
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.
BFT #1417TP @ $4.00 + $1.00 S&H A cassette on the "Portrait of Frances Havergal."