Go to dark Gethsemane
with REDHEAD 76 (GETHSEMANE)
Text: Origins. This hymn by James Montgomery (1771–1854) was first published in Thomas Cotterill’s Selection of Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship, 9th ed. (London: T. Cadell, 1820 | Fig. 1) in four stanzas of six lines, without music. At its core, it is a narrative hymn, recounting the events of the Garden of Gethsemane, the trial of Christ, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
Montgomery’s hymn appeared with several revisions in A Selection of Hymns, Compiled and Original … for the Use of the Protestant Dissenting Congregations of the Independent Order in Leeds (Leeds: E. Baines, 1822 | Fig. 2). For example, in the second stanza, the loss of the sequence “beaten, bound, reviled, arraign’d” is possibly an attempt to clarify the connection between the venue (judgement hall) and the event (arraignment), whereas the other actions would have been part of the subsequent sentence and torture. The “wormwood and the gall” is a biblical phrase found in Lamentations 3:19 and elsewhere. The end of stanza 3, “Learn of Jesus Christ to die” is an improvement over the original “Trust in Christ, and learn to die,” but the preceding line, “Hark to his expiring cry,” loses the more direct quotation of “It is finish’d” in the original. In this collection, Montgomery’s hymn was connected to 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (ESV).
Montgomery published the hymn in his own collection, The Christian Psalmist (Glasgow: Chalmers & Collins, 1825 | Fig. 3), keeping many of the 1822 revisions but making a few more. This version restores the cry, “It is finish’d,” in stanza 3. It also returns the first line of stanza 4, “Early hasten to the tomb,” to something closer to the original, “Early to the tomb repair,” but it drops the angel guards in favor of the more general statement, “All is solitude and gloom.” Notice the tweak to the final phrase, “teach us so to rise,” which would be changed again more than once.
The change in stanza 3, line 5, “hear their cry” was reversed in the 2nd ed. (1825) to read “hear Him cry,” and he made one small change in the last line to read “teach us how to rise.” These lines were altered again in Montgomery’s Original Hymns (1853), as “hear the cry” and “teach us so to rise.”
Even though this hymn is like other storytelling hymns such as “In Christ alone,” “Tell me the story of Jesus,” and others, Montgomery’s text is often reduced to three stanzas, omitting the resurrection. This has happened partly because of its favored use as a hymn for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, in which a resurrection stanza would be out of place liturgically. Another possible reason is the hymn’s musical setting, which is typically somber and reverent. Hymnist Christopher Idle suggested the shortened version “thus makes a powerful passiontide hymn, whereas to set the full version for Easter, starting with Gethsemane and dominated by suffering, would give a strange effect.”
Tune. This hymn is most frequently paired with REDHEAD 76 (GETHSEMANE, PETRA, AJALON), written by Richard Redhead (1820–1901), first printed in his Church Hymn Tunes Ancient and Modern (London: J. Masters, 1853 | Fig. 4).
Redhead’s tune has been associated with Montgomery’s text since the Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church with Music, edited by A.B. Goodrich & Walter B. Gilbert (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1872 | Fig. 5).
In hymnological literature, the tune is not universally loved. Erik Routley, for example, said it has “an inhibited quality which suggests strongly that for Redhead the ‘ancient’ emphasis meant, as for others, anti-enthusiastic and decorous demeanour. … Redhead did better work when he was not composing.” Similarly, Methodist scholar Carlton Young said “the tune expresses prevailing mid-nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholic perceptions that to recapture the spirit of antiquity is to compose reserved, understated, if not cheerless, hymn tunes.” And yet the tune’s continued success seems to be precisely because Montgomery’s Holy Week text deserves a musical setting with qualities which are “reserved, understated, if not cheerless.”
Of course, not all scholars agree with Routley and Young. Paul Westermeyer noted, “Congregations have not generally shared Young’s and Routley’s jibes. Congregations find the tune meaningful in Lent and a good fit with Montgomery’s text.” Bert Polman felt the tune was “suitably contemplative.”
The tune is sometimes called PETRA based on its association with Augustus Toplady’s hymn “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,” especially in British hymnals.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
18 April 2019
Christopher M. Idle, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” Exploring Praise!, vol. 1 (Darlington, England: Praise Trust, 2006), p. 298.
Erik Routley, The Music of Christian Hymns (Chicago: GIA, 1981), p. 91.
Carlton Young, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), pp. 361.
Paul Westermeyer, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), p. 150.
Bert Polman, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” The Worshiping Church: Worship Leaders’ Edition (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1991), no. 225.
John Julian, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 430, 1566.
Milburn Price, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), p. 126.
Paul Westermeyer, “Richard Redhead,” Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago: GIA, 2005), p. 236.
“Go to dark Gethsemane,” Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson & Kenneth Trickett, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: