The Author of our new title The Web of Friendship will be reading an excerpt at a service of evensong at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 19th June celebrating the ordination of Nicholas Ferrar there in 1626.
Joyce Ransome presents a story of a man whose ministry to his family turned a worldly misfortune into a spiritual opportunity to unite in piety and become an example of community to their own and future generations.
Born in London in 1593, Nicholas Ferrar was educated at Clare Hall, which is now Clare College , in Cambridge and was elected a fellow there in 1610. From 1613 he travelled extensively on the continent for four years, and on his return worked with the Virginia Company, and was briefly elected to Parliament.
In 1626, he and his family made permanent their move to Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, a manor they had pruchased in 1624/5. The household included Nicholas’s widowed mother, his brother John with his wife Bathsheba and their children, and his sister Susanna and her husband John Collett and their numerous children. They restored the derelict manor house and church and established a life of prayer, education and service based on scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, This mercantile family thus became a voluntary society that Nicholas hoped would preach to contemporaries by its example.
Although the family’s daily life followed a strict routine, it remained a household rather than a monastic community. The family tended to the health and education of local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the gospels that survive today as some of the finest in Britain.
Unusually women played an important role in the community of Little Gidding. Nicholas Ferrar’s mother, Mary, who had used her dower money to purchase Little Gidding, headed, with Nicholas, this unusual family. She was noted for having in her sixties memorised the entire psalter. She particularly concerned herself with the education of her granddaughters. The two eldest granddaughters, Mary and Anna Collet, committed themselves to lives of chastity. As their grandmother grew older, Mary especially resumed much of her responsibility. She ran the surgery and book-binding work and bound the first concordance presented to Charles I.
Nicholas Ferrar was ordained to the diaconate by William Laud in Westminster Abbey in 1626 when the family had decided to make Gidding their permanent home. He wrote to his niece in 1631, ‘I purpose and hope by God’s grace to be to you not as a master but as a partner and fellow student.’ This indicates the depth and feeling of the community life Nicholas and his family strove to maintain.
Despite difficulties the community continued after the death of Nicholas on 4 December 1637, until the disruptions of the civil war years and the departure of many of the younger generation made it impossible to carry on the communal life as Nicholas had established it. Nevertheless the memory of Nicholas Ferrar and his family has continued to inspire Christians to lives of prayer, service and community.
While that hope to be an example to the world was at best only partially fulfilled in his lifetime, those who had known him at Little Gidding were able later to form networks that adapted that piety and voluntarism to create societies acceptable within the church. These men led the way to voluntary Anglicanism that characterized a ‘Church of England’ in transition from a national to an established but essentially voluntary institution.
Avoiding the hagiographic tone adopted by Ferrar’s biographers, Joyce Ransome shows how the search for community was central to his life and has therefore become the unifying theme around which she has constructed his biography.
For its fresh prospective on the unique Little Gidding that Ferrar created, this book will appeal to both an academic and general audience of readers interested in early modern history, church history, English literature, theology, family history (historical sociology) and gender studies.
For more information about Little Gidding Church or Ferrar Manor House please visit the Ferrar House Website.
The Friends of Little Gidding maintain the memory of this family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer according to high church principles. The Friends, first founded over 60 years ago, exist to help maintain the beauty and spirituality of Little Gidding Church and its surroundings, and to remember the life and example of Nicholas Ferrar and his family. The Friends also celebrate the connection between Little Gidding and the poet T S Eliot. Its members will participate in the service which commemorates the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his ordination at Westminster Abbey.
For more information please visit the Friends of Little Gidding Website.
The Festival is a major literary celebration of the life and work of Nobel Prize winning writer Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965). People attending will include visitors from the T S Eliot Summer School. Tickets for the weekend are £45 (early-bird price £40 before 8 June 2011), including Saturday afternoon tea and supper and Sunday lunch and tea.
To find out more about the event please click here
To purchase a copy of The Web of Friendship or to find out more about the book please click here