Our first 2 vs 15 match-up may seem rather unfair to those who favor “Amazing Grace,” quite possibly one of the most famous and well-loved Christian hymns of all time. Given the feast day, it’s sort of a “home game” for the Irish tune Slane, and the text usually chosen by English-speaking Catholics, “Be Thou My Vision.” Let’s see how the polling works out:
For the John Newton text, the familiar melody didn’t come until two generations after it was penned. It wasn’t even directly connected to the man’s experience in the slave trade. It seems his conversion was a gradual one. Mr Newton remained at sea, and a few years later his journey brought him to the seminary. Nine years after his ordination, he wrote the words.
“Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses, and it may have been chanted by the congregation without music. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and (William) Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.
Some of us know the Irish tune for another frequent text, “Lord of All Hopefulness.” But Irish text, “Be Thou My Vision has a longer pedigree, going back to the Irish language. Eleanor Hull did the English versification a hundred years ago. Here’s verse one:
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Welsh composer David Evans matched text to tune in 1927.