George Herbert and St Andrews, Bemerton

George Herbert, 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 chapel at Little Gidding, where he established a religious community in 1626. Ferrar was executor of Herbert‘s will, and published his poetry.

George Herbert died of consumption on 1 March 1633. A simple cross on the north wall commemorates him with the initials GH and 1632 (dated according to the Julian Calendar).

The poet had the old rectory opposite the church rebuilt, and his own words carved on the gable:

If thou should’st
Chance to find
A new house to thy
And built without thy
Be good to the poor,
As God gives thee
And then my labour’s
Not lost.

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, 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.
Parents first season us: then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
Without our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears.
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.

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,
And pant and tremble like the amorous steel.
To lower good, and beauties less divine,
Sometimes my erroneous needle does incline;
But yet (so strong the sympathy)
It turns, and points again to Thee. 
(‘Aspiration’) John Norris

Norris exchanged letters with the feminist pamphleteer, Mary Astell (1666-1731) and jointly published, Letters Concerning the Love of God (1695), in which 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 , the website of the Friends of St Andrew's, Bemerton.

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