Art of Redemption 6 – Handel’s Anthem for the Foundling Hospital

Art of Redemption 6 – Handel’s Anthem for the Foundling Hospital

God created you without you, but he does not redeem you without you.
This quote from St Augustine reminds us that God invites us to participate actively in His redeeming work by living lives of Christian charity. One of the great values of Christian art is its ability to move us to live such charitable lives. A piece of music I find particularly inspiring in this regard is Handel’s Anthem for the Foundling Hospital. The Foundling Hospital was an orphanage for abandoned children set up by the philanthropist Thomas Coram in 1741, and Handel wrote his anthem in 1749 as part of a fundraising effort for the hospital. The anthem sets to music various scriptural passages which encourage acts of charity such as Psalm 40:

Blessed are they that considereth the poor and needy: the Lord will deliver them in time of trouble, the Lord preserve them and comfort them.

One of the climaxes of the anthem is a quartet and chorus set to words taken from Psalm 111:6 and Daniel 12:3:

The Charitable shall be had in everlasting remembrance and the Good will shine as the brightness of the firmament.

Whilst Handel’s anthem stands in its own right as a piece of musical genius, it is still only one example of art associated with the Foundling Hospital. Handel also organised many performances of his most famous oratorio Messiah which helped to raise £6700 for the Foundling Hospital, a sum equivalent to several million pounds in today’s money. Many other eminent 18th Century artists also donated works of art to the Foundling Hospital so that in effect it became a museum as well as an orphanage. The hospital’s founder, Thomas Coram, ended up spending nearly all his vast wealth on his charitable work so that when he died in 1751 there was barely enough money to pay his funeral expenses.
The effective use of the arts in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital helped to bring about a change in culture so that charitable endeavour became something that the people of 18th-century England wanted to get involved with. No doubt this legacy is still with us today.

Robert Verrill OP

fr Robert Verrill  lives in the Dominican Priory in Cambridge, where he works at the University chaplaincy while completing a Doctorate at Baylor University, Texas.