O Perfect Love

Sir Joseph Barnby (1838-1896)

The original English words were written by Dorothy Gurney in 1883 and the music (Sandringham) was composed by Joseph Barnby in 1890.

Music score

Other languages

Other hymns

O Perfect Love, All Human Thought Transcending

English poet Dorothy Frances Blomfield was born in 1858 into a noted family; her father was a rector and her grandfather was Dr Blomfield, Bishop of London.

The hymn 'O Perfect Love' was born in 1883. In this year, exciting things were happening in the world. The first vaudeville theatre opened in Boston, New York's Brooklyn Bridge opened, outlaw Black Bart "the Po-8" made his last stagecoach robbery, Clement Attlee, Aleksei Tolstoy, Hozumi Shigeto, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Benito Mussolini, were born, Richard Wagner and Karl Marx, died, and ships off the African coast were rocked by a tsunami caused by the massive explosion of Krakatau, whose boom could be heard 2,200 miles away in Australia.

Meanwhile, way up in Northern England in a sleepy Westmorland town, a group of youngsters were singing John Ellerton's hymn 'O Strength and Stay'. Dorothy Blomfield's sister heard this, and while the words didn't really appeal to her, the music did. The music was one of 300 hymn tunes composed by Rev. John Dykes, and Dorothy's sister decided she would like this for her wedding to Hugh Redmayne.

And since Dorothy was a poet, it seemed natural that she be asked to write wedding words to suit the music. Within 15 minutes, Dorothy came up with these words:

O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou forevermore dost join in one.

O perfect Life, be thou their full assurance,
of tender charity and steadfast faith,
of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
with childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death.

Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife,
and to life's day the glorious unknown morrow
that dawns upon eternal love and life.

Dorothy herself also got married, to Rev. Gerald Gurney, son of an Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer.

A few years after writing 'O Perfect Love', it was published in 'Hymns, Ancient and Modern' and soon became a hit. So popular in fact, that it was chosen for a royal wedding.

On 27 July 1889, Princess Louise of Wales, the sister of King George V, married Alexander William George Duff, 1st Duke of Fife, at the Chapel Royal, Buckingham Palace. A granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar was one of three daughters of King Edward VII and was brought up in one of the Royal palaces, Sandringham House, Norfolk. (The present Royal Family still spends most of each winter there.)

Sandringham House, Norfolk, England
Sandringham House

The words of the hymn remained the same but a new tune was written for the royal wedding, and the challenge of writing this was given to Joseph Barnaby. He named this new tune 'Sandringham'.

Yorkshireman Joseph Barnaby was born on 12 August 1838, to organist, composer and conductor Thomas Barnby. When he was seven, Joseph joined the choir at York Minster and became organist and choirmaster at the age of twelve! At 16, he entered the Royal Academy of Music, London. He held several important organist roles orchestrated daily concerts in the Albert Hall, conducted the St. Matthew Passion in Westminster Abbey, and became principal of the Guildhall School of Music.

In 1878 he married Lady Edith Mary Silverthorne and helped found the London Musical Society. And in 1892, after an illustrious musical career, Joseph was knighted.

Sandringham, by Sir Joseph Barnaby
(Click on the music for a full score)

Although the song is old, it is still popular. The meter lends itself to several alternative melodies and one of the more popular ones is the Irish Londonderry Air (O Danny Boy).

And in Japan, the original tune of Sandringham is used with these words.

Listen to the melody

Is there a word for that? 'Organisms' perhaps?


search 🔍



privacy policy