First United Presbyterian Church

Bells on the Hill

Beneath the sanctuary cross, the handbell choir is getting ready to present “Lift High the Cross,” a popular processional hymn which is the focus of the Lenten season at FUPC this year.

The hymn was originally prepared for a festival of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, held in Winchester Cathedral in 1887. The dean of the cathedral, George Kitchen, wrote eleven verses plus the refrain:

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.
Come, Christians, follow this triumphant sign.
The hosts of God in unity combine.*

An updated version was published in 1916 by Michael Robert Newbolt, with a tune composed by Sir Sydney Nicholson. The familiar tune is called “Crucifer.” From the beginning, this was used for processionals led by a cross-bearer, or crucifer, who would carry the cross at the head of a procession down the nave of the church. This is the source of the tune’s name, and “lift high the cross” was intended to be taken literally.

The hymn was first published in U.S. hymnals in the 1970s, and it has become a popular piece in many different arrangements. We look forward to hearing it from the bell choir next month.

The handbells, currently directed by Pam Gilbreath, have been part of the FUPC music program since the 1980s.

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