I recently visited Hereford Cathedral. After seeing the Mappa Mundi we had a look round the rest of the cathedral and were struck by some bright modern stained glass windows in a small side chapel. This is the Audley Chapel and Tom Denny created the windows (dedicated in 2007) on the theme of Thomas Traherne’s writings. Who was Thomas Traherne? I was intrigued to find out about him.

Thomas Traherne was a vicar born in Hereford in about 1637 who became a writer,poet,philosopher and mystic. Amazingly many of his works were discovered completely by chance,as late as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,some in a second-hand bookshop and others in Lambeth Palace library among ‘anonymous’ works. Traherne has been compared to the poet John Donne. He was described as ‘one of the most radiantly,infectiously happy mortals this earth has seen’.

After studying at Brasenose College,Oxford,Traherne became rector of Credenhill in Herefordshire and stayed there from 1657 till the 1670s. At Oxford he had tried without success to find someone to teach him ‘felicity’ –happiness –which he thought was the ‘mistress of all sciences’. He then went to London to be Private Chaplain to the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. His most well-known works are his ‘Centuries of Meditation’ and his ‘Commentaries of Heaven’.

Traherne believed that Christians should delight and rejoice in all God’s works. For example,landscape is seen as the body of God. ‘An ant is a great miracle in a little room and no less a monument of eternal love than almighty power.’ (Commentaries)

In Tom Denny’s window shown here a figure stands ‘in wonder and in oneness with creation’,in front of a river valley sheltered by hills and orchards (Herefordshire countryside) with the sun above. ‘You are as prone to love as the sun to shine’.(Centuries 11 65).

Traherne’s words have been set to music by many including Gerald Finzi in his Dies Natalis (1939). The opening is:

Sweet Infancy!

O Heavenly Fire! O Sacred Light!

How fair and bright!

How Great am I,

Whom the whole World doth magnify!

We are now in Eastertide,a season of joy. It is appropriate at this time to remember such a happy Christian person as Thomas Traherne,who perceived the goodness of God present and at work in all things.

Mary Booth

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