Nicholas Ferrar (1592– 1637) was the founder of a religious community at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England, which existed from 1626 to 1646. His family had been prominent in the affairs of the Virginia Company, but when that company was dissolved, he took deacon’s orders, and retired to the country.
At Little Gidding, his immediate family and a few friends and servants gave themselves wholly to religious observance. They restored the derelict church near the manor house, became responsible for services there, taught many of the local children, and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the neighborhood. A regular round of prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer was observed, along with the daily recital of the whole of the Psalter. The members of the community became widely known for fasting, private prayer and meditation, and for writing stories and books illustrating themes of Christian faith and morality.
One of the most interesting of the activities of the Little Gidding community was the preparation of “harmonies” of the Gospels, one of which was presented to King Charles the First by the Ferrar family.
The community did not long survive the death of Nicholas Ferrar. However, the memory of the religious life at Little Gidding was kept alive, principally through Izaak Walton’s description in his Life of George Herbert: “He (Ferrar) and his family . . . did most of them keep Lent and all Ember-weeks strictly, both in fasting and using all those mortifications and prayers that the Church hath appointed . . . and he and they did the like constantly on Fridays, and on the vigils or eves appointed to be fasted before the Saints’ days; and this frugality and abstinence turned to the relief of the poor . . . .”
The community became an important symbol for many Anglicans when religious orders began to revive. Its life inspired T.S. Eliot, and he gave the title, “Little Gidding,” to the last of his Four Quartets, one of the great religious poems of the twentieth century.*
Collect of the Day
Nicholas Ferrar, Deacon and Founder of the Little Gidding Community, 1637
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Nicholas Ferrar, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last, with him, we attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*Church Publishing. Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Kindle Locations 2143-2158). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.