O Holy Church: A Song for Easter Morning

A hand-written document, found in St. Paul’s archives, with the notation “Dr. Henry Coppeth [sic], University Penn., wrote these verses in St. Paul’s Rectory”.

O Holy Church
A Song for Easter Morning

O Holy Church, but yesternight
In dust thy robes were trailing;
The dew was heavy on thy head,
And thou thy Lord bewailing.

O Holy Church, the gates are burst;
The tomb could hold no longer;
The closing stone was adamant,
IMG_0004The God within was stronger.

O Holy Church, this Easter morn,
Thy richest banquet spread;
Thy risen Lord a-hungered comes,
To bless and share they bread.

O Holy Church, dear bride of Christ,
With flowers bedeck thine altar;
Array thy courts in evergreens,
Intone thy richest psalter.

O Holy Mother dear, who all thy Lord’s
Rich graces dost inherit,
Now bid the loud Tersanctus rise,
To Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

The notation misspells the author’s name: when this verse was published in 1882, it was ascribed to Henry Coppée, one-time professor at the University of Pennsylvania.


"Henry Coppée" from The Lehigh University, a
Historical Sketch, by Edmund M. Hyde, 1896..
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia

It is not certain when and why Coppée would have visited St. Paul’s rectory.  His first visit to this area was in 1866 (to receive an honorary LL.D. at Union College) and, since that was the last year he taught at Pennsylvania, that may be the year of composition. On the other hand, Coppée was in Schenectady and Albany many times between 1866 and 1880, so the date may have been later. As to the connection to St. Paul’s, our rector from 1864 until 1891 was J. Livingston Reese, a long-time member of Union College’s Board of Trustees.

“O Holy Church” was first published in The American Church Review for April 1882, with a few small changes.  The text itself only gives the initials “H.C” and “Bethlem, Penn.”,  the location of Lehigh University, where he was professor. The magazine index, however, lists Coppée ‘s full name.

The American church review

Five years later, in volume 4 of The Parish Choir, the poem was used as the text for an Easter Hymn. In this publication, Coppée is not credited, and an additional quatrain was added to fit the melody. The Parish Choir

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