All Creatures Great and Small


One of the more extraordinary stories of the British Isles is the account of the sea voyage of the sixth century monk Brendan.  After hearing rumours of an earthly paradise, across the sea, he set off with seventeen brother monk in a boat made out of cowhide on a wooden frame.  From the account of his journey it remains highly likely that he did cross the Atlantic Ocean, sailed through the fog of the Newfoundland banks, and made it to North America.


In a direct line from England, Newfoundland is the closest point to us. From Penzance (haunt of the famous pirates!) it is a mere 2116 miles!  Even in these days of frequent air travel I still thought it showed a degree of dedication when I recently met a Canadian priest, who had travelled from his Newfoundland parish, to join a group of us on retreat in Norfolk.


Newfoundland may be the tenth province of Canada, today, but up until 1949 it was a separate British Dominion.  One of the most moving war memorials I have seen from the Great War is that at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, on the Somme. It shows a caribou calling into the sky, as it sounds its tribute to all the Newfoundlanders who laid down their lives on behalf of Britain.


Another haunting call you may well hear in Canada is that of the loon bird.  The Canadian Church actually refers to it in its own verse of that popular hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.


The rocky mountain splendour

The loon bird’s haunting call,

The great lakes and the prairies

The forest in the fall.


The original hymn was written by Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, wife to the Archbishop of Armagh, in the mid nineteenth century.  Her hymn was part of a much wider attempt to explain the opening part of the Apostles’ Creed where we stress our belief in ‘God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.’  Mrs Alexander was remarkably successful to judge by the enthusiasm with which the children of Catsfield and Crowhurst School still sing it.


Newfoundland is certainly rich in wildlife with its mouse, caribou and black bears on land and the whales and dolphin in its waters. Whilst a Dominion it actually had its own version of the Red Ensign, the flag of the Merchant Navy, which included a  representation of a fisherman offering the rich harvest of the sea to Britannia.


It was Charles II who officially endorsed the Red Ensign in 1674 and there lies the second connection with the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.  The tune to which we normally sing it is called Royal Oak.  We have our own Royal Oak Lane in Crowhurst, which was probably named because it led past an inn of that name.  The term Royal Oak became a popular term for hostelries after the restoration of the monarchy on the 29th May 1660; it commemorated the fact that the young Charles II had once had to hide up an oak tree to escape his pursuers.


Every 29th of May top show your loyalty to the newly restored monarchy you were expected to wear oak leaves.  You would probably also have enjoyed dancing to the tune named Royal Oak.  Royal Oak was the tune to a patriotic ballad, in praise of the returning House of Stuart, called The Twenty-Ninth of May.  Martin Shaw (1875-1958) the English composer was so enchanted with the tune that he adapted it to fit All Things Bright and Beautiful.


So next time we sing All Things Bright and Beautiful you can firstly ponder the wonders of God’s creation in our own land and beyond.  You can also remember that beauty is a quality of God. Wherever we find beauty, be it in art or music, it is always a good thing to deploy it, as Martin Shaw did, for the worship of our Heavenly Father.


Father Michael

Posted By: valerie

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