John Dykes Composer of "Holy, Holy, Holy"

Updated May 25, 2018
John Dykes Composer of "Holy, Holy, Holy"

"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty," read Reginald Heber's widow. Among her dead husband's papers, she found the words of one of the most powerful and beautiful hymns ever written. But years would pass before the lines took their place in worship services around the world.

In 1861, a publisher rediscovered the words. He asked John Bacchus Dykes to furnish him with a tune. It made sense for him to turn to John who had a natural aptitude for music (he graduated with a music master that same year). John had been a church organist since he was ten-years-old and was co-founder and president of the Cambridge University Musical Society.

John accepted the words. Within thirty minutes he wrote the tune "Nicea," which carried the praise of the Trinity to Christians everywhere.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy, Merciful and Mighty!
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!

The year after he composed this famous tune, John was appointed vicar of St. Oswald. This put him in charge of a parish. He was thirty-nine and had already held several lesser church posts. John's people came to love him.

His bishop, however, did not care for John's views. John was "high-church." This meant that he stressed the continuity of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic church from which it had sprung. He believed that church and monarchy had divine rights which were being washed away by modern changes. There was long-lasting disagreement between John and his bishop because of this.

Charles Baring, his bishop, refused to give John any help with his large parish unless he would agree to conduct his services in a more "low-church" style. He had to get rid of colorful collars, stop burning incense and not turn his back on his congregation at times during the service. John wouldn't agree and so he had to handle the whole parish himself, a job which exhausted him.

Nonetheless, in addition to his regular duties, he managed to write over 300 hymn tunes. These included some for our favorite hymns, such as "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" and less familiar songs such as "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand" and "Lead, Kindly Light."

Worn out with his labors and constant friction with his bishop, John died on this day, January 22, 1876. He was just fifty-three years old. Those who loved and admired him, raised £10,000 to support his widow and children.

Read more about the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God Almighty" with full lyrics and videos at


  1. "All Things Bright and Beautiful; the Authors."
  2. "Dykes, John Bacchus." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University, 1997.
  3. "Holy, Holy, Holy."
  4. "Holy, Holy, Holy." Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories. Chicago, Illinois: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1967.
  5. "John Bacchus Dykes."
  6. "John Bacchus Dykes." Hymns_and_Carols/ Biographies/john_bacchus_dykes.htm
  7. Routley, Erik. Hymns and the Faith. Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury Press, 1956.
  8. Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.

Last updated June, 2007.


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