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"To be a Pilgrim" is the only hymn John Bunyan is credited with writing but is indelibly associated with him. It first appeared in Part 2 of Pilgrim's Progress, written in 1684 while he was serving a twelve-year sentence in Bedfordmarker Gaol on a charge of preaching without a licence. The hymn recalls the words of Hebrews 11:13: "...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

The words were mo­di­fied extensively by Per­cy Dear­mer for the 1906 The English Hymnal.At the same time it was given a new tune by British composer Vaughan Williams using the traditional Sussex melody "Monk's Gatemarker". The hymn has also been sung to the melody "Moab" (John Ro­berts, 1870) and St. Dun­stans (Charles W. Doug­las, 1917).

Bunyan's original version is not commonly sung in churches today, perhaps because of the references to "hobgoblin" and "foul fiend." However, one commentator has said: "Bunyan's burly song strikes a new and welcome note in our Hymnal. The quaint sincerity of the words stirs us out of our easygoing dull Christianity to the thrill of great adventure."

The hymn's refrain "to be a pilgrim" has entered the language and has been used in the title of a number of books dealing with pilgrimage in a literal or spiritual sense.

Notable recordings



References

  1. The Eng­lish Hymn­al, Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906
  2. The Hymnal 1940 Companion, New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1949, p. 331.
  3. For example, the novel To be a Pilgrim by Joyce Cary, To be a Pilgrim: A spiritual notebook by Basil Hume, To be a Pilgrim: The medieval pilgrimage experience by Sarah Hopper, and To be a Pilgrim: The Anglican ethos in history by Frederick Quinn.


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