Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637)
During Advent we are reminded of another English proponent and example of
homely divinity, the 17th century deacon Nicholas Ferrar, whose feast day
falls on December 1st. He was the guiding light of one of the most
remarkable experiments in Christian living in the history of Anglicanism.
With his extended family, including his mother and his brother and sister
and their families, he founded what has sometimes been referred to as the
first monastic house in England since the dissolution of the monasteries
by Henry VIII. The whole family shared in a discipline of prayer
based on the Prayer Book offices, together with the twice daily recitation
of the entire Psalter. The parish around them was touched and
enriched by their prayer and their teaching, as well as their care for the
needy and the sick in the community.
The experiment did not survive beyond the generation of Nicholas and his siblings, but the holiness of the lives lived there contines to imbue the place and inspired one of the great poems of 20th century literature, T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding.
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Nicholas Ferrar's family were stockholders in the Virginia Company, but when the company dissolved he was ordained a deacon and moved with his extended family to the manor house at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. Living there from 1626 to 1657, they restored the little Church of St. John the Evangelist and devoted themselves as a family to a life centered in prayer and service. They became widely known, and in some circles reviled, for their lifestyle which
included regular fasting and meditation. They
taught the children of the neighborhood and wrote books to illustrate the
Christian faith and life. They also prepared harmonies of the
Gospels, one of which was presented to King Charles I, who visited Little
Gidding at least twice, including a clandestine visit when fleeing from
his enemies in 1646. The community continued after the death of
Nicholas but finally disbanded in 1657 after the deaths of his brother and
The fame of Nicholas Ferrar and his family is not limited to the Anglican family. One of the more interesting commentaries on the experiment at Little Gidding may be found on a website devoted to Ukrainian Orthodoxy. It is well worth a visit, if for no other reason than to illustrate the deep resonance that the full homely divinity of Anglicanism has with the whole Christian family.
In 1970, a new community was
formed at Little Gidding. The Community of Christ the Sower included
Anglicans and Roman Catholics and flourished for a number of years, but
disbanded in 1998. More information about Little Gidding may be