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.

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

(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 

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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