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Christian History 102

Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar was assumed to be born in 1592. I have found that his most probable

birth

date was in February of 1593. This is due to the usual calendar confusion: England

was

not at that time using the new calendar adopted in October 1582. It was 1593

according

to our modern calendar, but at the time the new year in England began on the

following

March 25th.

Nicholas Ferrar was one of the more interesting figures in English history. His family

was

quite wealthy and were heavily involved in the Virginia Company, which had a Royal

Charter for the plantation of Virginia. People like Sir Walter Raleigh were often

visitors to

the family home in London. Ferrars' niece was named Virginia, the first known use of

this

name. Ferrar studied at Cambridge and would have gone further with his studies but

the

damp air of the fens was bad for his health and he traveled to Europe, spending time

in the

warmer climate of Italy.

On his return to England he found his family had fared badly. His brother John had

become over extended financially and the Virginia Company was in danger of loosing

its

charter. Nicholas dedicated himself to saving the family fortune and was successful.

He

served for a short time as Member of Parliament, where he tried to promote the cause

for

the Virginia Company. His efforts were in vain for the company lost their charter

anyway.

Nicholas is given credit for founding a Christian community called the English

Protestant

Nunnery at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, England. After Ferrar was ordained as

a

deacon, he retired and started his little community. Ferrar was given help and support

with his semi-religious community by John Collet, as well as Collet's wife and

fourteen

children. They devoted themselves to a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matthew

6:2,5,16).

The community was founded in 1626, when Nicholas was 34 years old. Banning

together,

they restored an abandoned church that was being used as a barn. Being of wealthy

decent, Ferrar purchased the manor of Little Gidding, a village which had been

discarded

since the Black Death (a major outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 14th century), a

few

miles off the Great North Road, and probably recommended by John Williams, Bishop

of

Lincoln whose palace was in the nearby village of Buckden. About thirty people along

with Mary Ferrar (Ferrars' mother) moved into the manor house. Nicholas became

spiritual leader of the community.

The community was very strict under the supervision of Nicholas. They read daily

offices

of the Book of Common Prayer, including the recital of the complete Psalter. every

day.

Day and night there was at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer at

the

alter, that they were keeping the word, "Pray without ceasing". They taught the

neighborhood children, and looked after the health and well being of the community.

They

fasted and in many ways embraced voluntary poverty so that they might have as

much

money as possible for the relief of the poor. They wrote books and stories dealing

with

various aspects of Christian faith and practice. The memory of the community

survived to

inspire and influence later undertakings of Christian communal living, and one of T.S.

Eliots' Four Quartets is called "Little Gidding."

Nicholas was a bookbinder and he taught the community the craft as well as gilding

and

the so-called pasting printing by means of a rolling press. The members of the

community

produced the remarkable "Harmonies" of the scriptures, one of which was produced

by

Mary Collet for King Charles I.. Some of the bindings were in gold toothed leather,

some

were in velvet which had a considerable amount of gold tooling. Some of the

embroidered

bindings of this period have also been attributed to the so-called nuns of Little

Gidding.

The community attracted much attention and was visited by the king, Charles I. He

was

attracted by a gospel harmony they had produced. The king asked to borrow it only to

return it a few months later in exchange for a promise of a new harmony to give his

son,

Charles, Prince of Wales. This the Ferrars did, and the superbly produced and bound

manuscript passed through the royal collection, and is now on display at the British

Library.

Nicholas Ferrar, who was never married, died in 1637, and was buried outside the

church

in Little Gidding. Nicholas's brother John assumed the leadership of the community.

John did his best to make the community thrive. He was visited by the king several

times.

At one time the king came for a visit with the Prince of Wales, he donated some

money

that he had won in a card game from the prince. The kings last visit was in secret and

at

night. He was fleeing from defeat from the battle of Naseby and was heading north to

try

to enlist support from the Scots. John brought him secretly to Little Gidding and got

him

away the next day.

The community was now in much danger. The Presbyterian Puritans were now on the

rise

and the community was condemned with a series of pamphlets calling them an

"Arminian

Nunnery" (Ariminius was a Dutch reformer and theologian who opposed the Calvinist

doctrine of predestination and election)

In 1646 the community was forcibly broken up by Parliamentary soldiers. Their brass

baptismal font was damaged, cast into the pond and not recovered until 200 years

later.

The village remained in the Ferrar family but it was not until the 18th century that the

church was restored by another Nicholas Ferrar. Ferrar restored the church,

shortened the

nave by about 8 feet and built the "dull facade" that Eliot spoke of.

In the mid 19th century, William Hodgkinson came along and restored the church

more.

He installed the armorial stain glass windows, (4 windows with the arms of Ferrar,

Charles

the 1st and Bishop Williams inserted). He then put in a rose window at the east end

(this

rose window was later replaced by a Palladian-style plain glass window).

Hodgkinson

recovered the brass font, restored it and reinstalled it in the church. An elaborate 18th

century chandelier now hangs in the church, installed by Hodgkinson.

from _Little Gidding_ by T.S. Eliot

If you came this way,

Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season,

It would always be the same: you would have to put off

Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire

beyond the language of the living.

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

Bibliography

Etherington & Roberts. Dictionary--Ferrar, Nicholas - Bookbinding and the

Conservation

of Books A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Ferrar, Nicholas ( 1592-1637 )

Columbia Encyclopedia - Table Of Contents - Columbia Encyclopedia. F. Faber,

Frederick

William. Faber, Johannes. Fabian, Saint. Fabian Society. Fabius. Fabius, Laurent.

fable.

fabliau, plural...

Christian Biographies Commemorated in November - FOR THE FEAST OF ALL

SAINTS

(1 NOV) FIRST READING: Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14 ("Let us now praise famous

men...."; a commemoration of patriarchs,...

A History Of The Church In England, J.R.H.Moorman, Morehouse Publishing

copyright

1980

The Story Of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins Publishers copyright 1984

The Episcopal Church, David Locke Hippocrene Books, New York copyright 1991

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