John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale (24 January 1818 – 6 August 1866) was an English Anglican priest, scholar and hymnwriter. He notably worked and wrote on a wide range of holy Christian texts, including obscure medieval hymns, both Western and Eastern. An Anglo-Catholic, Neale's have found positive reception in high-church Anglicanism and Western Rite Orthodoxy.[1][2]


Neale was born in London on 24 January 1818, his parents being the clergyman Cornelius Neale and Susanna Neale, daughter of John Mason Good. A younger sister Elizabeth Neale (1822–1901) founded the Community of the Holy Cross. He was educated at Sherborne School,[3] Dorset, and Trinity College, Cambridge,[4] where (despite being said to be the best classical scholar in his year) his lack of ability in mathematics prevented him taking an honours degree.[5] Neale was named after the Puritan cleric and hymn writer John Mason (1645–94), of whom his mother Susanna was a descendant.[6]

At the age of 22 Neale was the chaplain of Downing College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he was affected by the Oxford Movement and, particularly interested in church architecture, helped to found the Cambridge Camden Society (afterwards known as the Ecclesiological Society). The society advocated for more ritual and religious decoration in churches, and was closely associated with the Gothic Revival. Neale was ordained in 1842.[7] He was briefly incumbent of Crawley in Sussex, but was forced to resign due to a chronic lung disease. The following winter he lived in the Madeira Islands, where he was able to do research for his History of the Eastern Church. In 1846 he became warden of Sackville College, an almshouse at East Grinstead, an appointment which he held until his death.[8]

In 1854 Neale co-founded the Society of Saint Margaret, an order of women in the Church of England dedicated to nursing the sick. Many Protestants of the time were suspicious of the restoration of Anglican religious orders. In 1857, Neale was attacked and mauled at a funeral of one of the Sisters.[9] Crowds threatened to stone him or to burn his house. He received no honour or preferment in England, and his doctorate was bestowed by Trinity College (Connecticut).[8]

He was also the principal founder of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, a religious organization founded as the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union in 1864. A result of this organisation was the Hymns of the Eastern Church, edited by John Mason Neale and published in 1865.[10]

Neale was strongly high church in his sympathies, and had to endure a good deal of opposition, including a fourteen years' inhibition by his bishop. Neale translated the Eastern liturgies into English, and wrote a mystical and devotional commentary on the Psalms.[8] However, he is best known as a hymnwriter and, especially, translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and mediaeval hymns translated from Latin and Greek. For example, the melody of Good King Wenceslas originates from a medieval Latin springtime poem, Tempus adest floridum. More than anyone else, he made English-speaking congregations aware of the centuries-old tradition of Latin, Greek, Russian, and Syrian hymns. The 1875 edition of the Hymns Ancient and Modern contains 58 of his translated hymns; The English Hymnal (1906) contains 63 of his translated hymns and six original hymns by Neale.

His translations include:

Death and legacy[edit]

Since Neale died on 6 August 1866, the Festival of the Transfiguration, he is commemorated by the Anglican churches on the following day, 7 August. In the Episcopal Church in the United States, he shares this feast with Catherine Winkworth, who also translated hymns into English. Neale and Winkworth are also commemorated together in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on 1 July, the anniversary of Winkworth's death. Neale was buried in St Swithun's churchyard, East Grinstead.

John Mason Neale is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on 7 August.[11]


Hymns and carols

Neale's most enduring and widely known legacy is probably his contribution to the Christmas repertoire, most notably:

John Mason Neale also wrote the hymn:

  • A Great and Mighty Wonder, translated from the Greek of St Germanus, although Neale incorrectly attributed it to St Anatolius.


Theological and historical books

Books related to Cambridge Camden Society

Books related to Cambridge Camden Society


  1. ^ "John Mason Neale". London: The Catholic Literature Association. 1933. Retrieved 28 July 2021 – via Project Canterbury.
  2. ^ "Neale Commentary on the Psalms". Glendale, CO: Lancelot Andrewes Press. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  3. ^ "John Mason Neale (1818-1866)". The Old Shirburnian Society. 12 August 2020. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  4. ^ "The Sherborne Register 1550–1950" (PDF). Old Shirbirnian Society. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  5. ^ "Neale, John Mason (NL836JM)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. ^ "The Reverend John Mason". The Church of St Giles, Water Stratford. The Parish of St. Giles, Water Stratford. Archived from the original on 25 November 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
  7. ^ "John Mason Neale". The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Kiefer, James E. "John Mason Neale, Priest, Scholar, and Translator". Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past.
  9. ^ Neale, John Mason (1857). The Lewes Riot, Its Causes and Its Consequences. London: Joseph Masters.
  10. ^ "Hymns of the Eastern Church". Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  11. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  12. ^ Nelson, Dale J., "John Mason Neale and the Christian Heritage", Mayville State University, 1997


External links[edit]