George Herbert and St Andrews, Bemerton
George Herbert (1593-1633) spent the last three years of his life as rector of the tiny church of St Andrews Bemerton with Fugglestone, where he became known as ‘Holy Mr Herbert’.
The photograph is of the West Window, installed in 1933. The poet is depicted in the right-hand light, with his friend and contemporary Nicholas Ferrar at left.
Ferrar is shown in front of the church at Leighton Bromswold that he built on George Herbert‘s behalf, to the poet‘s specification. Ferrar was executor of Herbert‘s will, and published his poetry.
The poet had the old rectory opposite the church rebuilt, and his own words carved on the gable:
If thou should’st
Whilst much of the church has been rebuilt, most of the south wall is original, as is the bell and the door through which you enter.
A friend of Francis Bacon and Johne Donne, George Herbert’s poetry expressed the metaphysical complications of the spiritual life and was mostly published posthumously in The Temple (1633).
In a note written from his death bed, Herbert told Ferrar that he was sending him his writings, which he described as:
"a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul"
In 1913 when he visited Bemerton, Edward Thomas was moved to quote in full and with relish George Herbert’s sonnet on Sin:
Lord what care hast thou begirt us round.
Other literary clergy at Bemerton include the poet and philosopher John Norris (1657-1711), who was rector from 1692-1711, and the travel writer and biographer, William Coxe (1748-1828), who was rector from 1788-1828. Both have memorials and are buried at the church.
Even here Thy strong magnetic charms I feel,
Norris exchanged letters with the feminist pamphleteer, Mary Astell (1666-1731) and jointly published, Letters Concerning the Love of God (1695), where Anstell questioned Norris’s faith that God should be the sole object of human love.
Anstell was a celebrated and controversial figure. Her main work A Serious Proposal to theLadies (1694) attacked the institution of marriage for being unfair to women and called for the establishment of a women’s college for prayer, study and charitable work.
For more information on George Herbert in Bemerton, see www.georgeherbert.org.uk , the website of the Friends of St Andrew's, Bemerton.