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Saint Columb’s Cathedral

Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, 1823-95

Mrs Alexander was the second daughter of Major John Humphreys, Miltown House, County Tyrone, Ireland. She married the Rt. Rev. W. Alexander, D.D. Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, who became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. They were married for 45 years, half of which was lived in the Bishop’s Palace, close to St Columb’s Cathedral. Mrs. Alexander was of a humble disposition and disliked praise and flattery. She died greatly beloved by the many poor she had helped by her kindness. She is buried in City of Derry Cemetery.

Mrs. Alexander, as a little girl, showed that she had a poetic gift and her father encouraged her in it. She became a prolific writer of hymns. Over four hundred came from her busy pen. She wrote many narrative poems and Tennyson the poet said he would have been proud to have written her poem "The Burial of Moses".

Perhaps her most famous hymn is 'There is a Green Hill far away'. This hymn was inspired by a little hill outside the walls of Derry. In her mind it was on a hill like that that Jesus was crucified. Her hymn was to help her godchildren to understand the statements of the creed, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried". This hymn was composed while she sat by the bedside of a sick child. Several great musical composers have written tunes for this hymn..

In 1913, after the death of her husband in 1911, a stained glass window by James Powell and Sons in her memory was installed in the north vestibule of  St Columb's Cathedral, financed by public subscription. The three lights of the windows refer to three of her hymns and show corresponding scenes: “Once in Royal David's City”, “There is a green hill far away”, and “The Golden Gates Are Lifted Up”.