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Nicholas Ferrar

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Essay title: Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar was assumed to be born in 1592. I have found that his most probable birth

date was in February of 1593. This is due to the usual calendar confusion: England was

not at that time using the new calendar adopted in October 1582. It was 1593 according

to our modern calendar, but at the time the new year in England began on the following

March 25th.

Nicholas Ferrar was one of the more interesting figures in English history. His family was

quite wealthy and were heavily involved in the Virginia Company, which had a Royal

Charter for the plantation of Virginia. People like Sir Walter Raleigh were often visitors to

the family home in London. Ferrars' niece was named Virginia, the first known use of this

name. Ferrar studied at Cambridge and would have gone further with his studies but the

damp air of the fens was bad for his health and he traveled to Europe, spending time in the

warmer climate of Italy.

On his return to England he found his family had fared badly. His brother John had

become over extended financially and the Virginia Company was in danger of losing


charter. Nicholas dedicated himself to saving the family fortune and was successful. He

served for a short time as Member of Parliament, where he tried to promote the cause for

the Virginia Company. His efforts were in vain for the company lost their charter anyway.

Nicholas is given credit for founding a Christian community called the English Protestant

Nunnery at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, England. After Ferrar was ordained as a

deacon, he retired and started his little community. Ferrar was given help and support

with his semi-religious community by John Collet, as well as Collet's wife and fourteen

children. They devoted themselves to a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matthew


The community was founded in 1626, when Nicholas was 34 years old. Banning together,

they restored an abandoned church that was being used as a barn. Being of wealthy

decent, Ferrar purchased the manor of Little Gidding, a village which had been discarded

since the Black Death (a major outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 14th century), a few

miles off the Great North Road, and probably recommended by John Williams, Bishop of

Lincoln whose palace was in the nearby village of Buckden. About thirty people along

with Mary Ferrar (Ferrars' mother) moved into the manor house. Nicholas became

spiritual leader of the community.

The community was very strict under the supervision of Nicholas. They read daily offices

of the Book of Common Prayer, including the recital of the complete Psalter. every day.

Day and night there was at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer at the

alter, that they were keeping the word, "Pray without ceasing". They taught the

neighborhood children, and looked after the health and well being of the community. They

fasted and in many ways embraced voluntary poverty so that they might have as much

money as possible for the relief of the poor. They wrote books and stories dealing with

various aspects of Christian faith and practice. The memory of the community survived to

inspire and influence later undertakings of Christian communal living, and one of T.S.

Eliots' Four Quartets is called "Little Gidding."


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