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‘Amazing Grace’ marks 250th anniversary

The hymn “Amazing Grace,” one of the most frequently sung of all time, was composed by the Rev. John Newton in the days leading to his New Year’s Day service on Jan. 1, 1773.

It has been sung at church services, major events and concerts throughout the years, and recorded more than 1,000 times. Its tale of sin and redemption, written by a former slave trader who repented and became an Anglican minister, has proven to have universal appeal.

Newton ministered in the small town of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, England. The Cowper & Newton Museum in Olney, dedicated to the work of Newton and his friend and collaborator, William Cowper, is marking the 250th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” with commemorations and events.

A website dedicated to John Newton has further information and resources regarding the anniversary.

Lesser-known facts about “Amazing Grace”:

— Newton’s sermon on that New Year’s Day was on 1 Chronicles 17:16,17, containing the phrase, “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

— Published in 1779, the hymn was not very well known in Britain in the 18th century.

— It was sung to at least half a dozen tunes in the 18th century.

— It gradually gained popularity in the 19th century and acquired the melody used today, “New Britain,” when all six original stanzas of “Amazing Grace” were published with the melody in 1835.

— The stanza beginning, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years …” was not written by Newton, but is a verse from “Jerusalem, My Happy Home,” and was inserted as part of “Amazing Grace” in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

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