The meaning of ‘Jerusalem’

May 01 2019

Thought for the Month with Mike Swain, lay minister, Coalpit Heath

They have all used or use the hymn "And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green?", known as Jerusalem, at their events. It is also popular for weddings, funerals and other church services, and some people think it should be used as an English national anthem.

However some churches, including Southwark Cathedral, will not allow it to be sung because they consider that the words do not praise God and are too nationalistic. I suggest you read it and draw your own conclusion.

The words of Jerusalem were written by William Blake in 1804 as a poem. The music was composed by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916, during the First World War and used to accompany Blake's words as an uplifting hymn during the troubled times of the war. It was well received.

In 1918 it was sang at a suffrage demonstration concert and in 1924 it was adopted as the anthem for the WI.

There is a legend in the West Country that Joseph of Arimathea brought the young Jesus to England and that they visited Glastonbury. As Joseph was a tin merchant, it is possible that he knew about the tin mines in Cornwall and on the Mendip Hills, so it would have been a possible place for him to visit with Jesus. Hence the opening words of the hymn.

Many churches have used the word Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven. The first verse asks: "And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark satanic mills?". This could refer to the industrial revolution that destroyed part of the pleasant land and changed, not always for the better, the lives of many people. Thus the thought of heaven coming to a troubled part of our land at that time can be considered a lovely thought. The second verse vows to build Jerusalem “in England's green and pleasant land" – words that acknowledge that England is a beautiful place, on the whole, and to increase its beauty with heavenly conditions can only be good.

If this hymn reminds us of the green and pleasant place God has given us to live in, and that it is for all of us to conserve as much nature and wildlife as we can, as well as working for peace in our world and good and fair treatment of all people, then I would consider it an uplifting one, fit for all occasions.