This page was created by Donal Hegarty.  The last update was by Alisa Clapp-Itnyre .

Sounding Childhood

Rock of Ages, cleft for me

Rock of Ages” is a surprising hymn to represent Christ’s crucifixion in 19th-century children’s hymnbooks.  It is, after all, a fairly harsh Calvinist hymn written by Augustus Toplady in 1776 which highlights Christ’s blood-letting in complex symbolism and syntax: “Let the Water and the Blood/ From Thy riven Side which flowed,/ Be of sin the double cure,/ Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”  This is more mystifying when one considers that the Taylors’ immensely influential 1809 hymnbook, Hymns for Infant Minds, contained a hymn, “Lo, at noon, ‘tis sudden night,” catering specifically to children in its simple and straight-forward explanation of the crucifixion.  Yet this hymn is not found in any other future hymnbook in my calculations. More appropriately, “Rock of Ages” was a favorite among adults: it was found in the top ten of three contemporary lists of adult favorites.  In England, the tune “Redhead” (named for its composer, Richard Redhead) was most associated with “Rock of Ages” although in America it is better known to “Toplady” by American Thomas Hastings (from Spiritual Songs for Social Worship, 1831).  The stability of these tunes seems to have aided the permanency of this hymn.

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