Belfast Telegraph

Banbridge honours Joseph Scriven, writer of famous hymn 200 years on

Bicentenary: Joseph Scriven
Bicentenary: Joseph Scriven
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A Co Down town will honour one of its most famous sons this weekend.

The life and work of Joseph Scriven, the writer who penned the hymn What A Friend We Have In Jesus, will be celebrated 200 years after his birth.

Scriven was born in Banbridge on September 10, 1819 and his lyrics have been sung around the world. Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and Ella Fitzgerald are among the legendary artists who have recorded versions.

On Sunday Joseph Scriven's bicentenary will be marked with a range of events in Banbridge and throughout Ireland as his famous hymn is sung by all denominations.

In Banbridge a special service will be held in Holy Trinity Parish Church, which features a memorial window dedicated to the composer.

The Anglican Bishop Henry Scriven, the great-great nephew of Joseph Scriven, will be attending the service at 6.30pm on Sunday.

The Canadian High Commission Consul in Northern Ireland Ken Brundle and the Queen's representative, Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay, have also confirmed their attendance.

Hourly bus tours will be available around Scriven sites throughout Saturday, leaving from Church Square, Banbridge.

The Scriven story and the church were the focus of an edition of the BBC's Songs Of Praise in March this year.

In many respects he led a tragic life. He was known as a hard-working, generous man and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin at the age of 24.

In 1843 he had plans to get married but the night before his wedding tragedy struck when his fiancee accidentally drowned.

A year later, aged 25, Scriven emigrated to Canada, returned to Ireland, joined the Royal Dragoons and spent time in the Middle East before finally settling back in Ontario, Canada, where he found love again with a woman named Catherine Roche.

They were engaged to be married, but in 1860, a few weeks before the wedding, Miss Roche died after contracting pneumonia after a baptism ceremony in icy waters.

A few years later Scriven heard that his mother was sick, but he did not have the means necessary to make the trip back home to care for her.

So he wrote her a letter containing these words: "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer", which led to the famous hymn.

Scriven died in August 1886 at age 66 when he drowned in a lake. He is buried next to his second fiancee in Ontario.

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