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Wednesday 25 November |
Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Hymn of the Week: 'How Great Thou Art'

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 08/13/17

Another great hymnfrom the Protestant songbook:

“How Great Thou Art” is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940) in Mönsterås, Sweden in 1885. It was translated into German and then into Russian and became a hymn. It was translated into English from the Russian by English missionary Stuart K. Hine, who also added two original verses of his own. The composition was set to a Russian melody. It was popularised by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades. It was voted the United Kingdom’s favourite hymn by BBC’s Songs of Praise.“How Great Thou Art” was ranked second (after “Amazing Grace”) on a list of the favorite hymns of all time in a survey by Today’s Christian magazine in 2001.

It has an interesting genesis:

The inspiration for the poem came when Boberg was walking home from church near Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to church bells. A sudden storm got Boberg’s attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its appearance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mönsterås Bay. According to J. Irving Erickson:

Carl Boberg and some friends were returning home to Mönsterås from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon service. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mönsterås like a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush…the church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the song.

According to Boberg’s great-nephew, Bud Boberg, “My dad’s story of its origin was that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in the ‘underground church’ in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted.”

It remains a thrilling piece of work. Give a listen in the video above.

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