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On the Kalendar: Reginald Heber, Bishop

April from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“April”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

Reginald Heber matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he developed a reputation as a poet. Heber’s post-graduation Grand Tour with his childhood friend John Thornton was postponed because of the Napoleonic wars, but beginning in the summer of 1805, they set off for Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. After the focus of the war shifted, they were able to make their way through the Crimea, and on to Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Germany.

Upon his return to England, Heber began preparing for Holy Orders. Heber’s father and uncle were both priests, and in 1807, Heber was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford and succeeded to the family living as rector of Hodnet. This was a time of great conflict in the church; Heber had been raised as a High churchman, but eventually his views shifted to a more centrist position.

In 1823 Heber was consecrated as the second Bishop of Calcutta, a diocese which included India and Ceylon, together with Australia and parts of southern Africa. After determining that the rigors of the Indian climate would not be too much for his wife and infant daughter, he set forth in June of that year. Upon arrival, Heber travelled widely, in a grand tour that included sailing up the Ganges, crossing overland into the foothills of the Himalayas, and back through Bombay and Benares. Along the way, he conducted Holy Communion services in both English and Hindustani, attracting large congregations.

In 1826, Heber set out on another tour, this time heading south to Madras, Pondicherry, and Tanjore. In Trichinopoly, after attending an early-morning service at which he gave a blessing in Tamil, he died suddenly after a cold bath, possibly because of the shock of the cold water in the intense heat.

Heber’s most lasting legacy is his collection of hymns, which was published posthumously. He wrote over fifty hymns, and he is one of the most represented authors in the 1940 Hymnal with nine hymns, including № 46, “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning” (morning star), № 169, “God, that madest earth and heaven” (ar hyd y nos), and № 266, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” (nicea).

Reginald Heber died on April 3, 1823.

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