John Medley

John MedleyPhoto:
John Medley

John Medley (Anglican clergyman, choirmaster, designer, composer, and first bishop of the Diocese of Fredericton, consecrated 1845) was born in Chelsea, England, on 19 December 1804 to George and Henrietta. He was brought up by his widowed mother in an evangelical household, and died in Fredericton on 9 September 1892. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford (1822–26), he studied the nineteenth-century musical ideas of Adolf Bernhard Marx, particularly Marx’s representational and compositional theories. As a clergyman and later as a bishop, Medley composed numerous anthems, introits, and other forms of church music, releasing Hymns for Public Worship in the Diocese of Fredericton (Saint John, 1855). His life’s work extended beyond that of choirmaster to pioneering liturgical reformer, where his aesthetic mentorship was especially deeply felt in mid- and late-nineteenth-century New Brunswick art and literature.

Steeped in the English ecclesiological movement, which broke from conventional Anglican austerities toward greater Catholicity of church music and architecture, he encouraged a more expansive, even sensuous, expression in worship, causing some to consider him the first Anglo-Catholic bishop in Anglican history (he was the first Tractarian to rise to the position of bishop in the Church of England). He was especially Catholic in his reverence for and celebration of the sacraments.

In the view of literary critic Malcolm Ross, Medley’s insistence on the “kinship of beauty and holiness” (33) had a profound formative influence on Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman, both of whom “were to come of age in Medley’s city, [be] reared and taught by men who were Medley’s friends, his allies, his disciples” (33). Given that both Roberts’ father and George Parkin, Roberts and Carman’s most important teacher, were disciples of Medley, Ross’ observation is not hyperbole. Though some high churchmen viewed his reforms with suspicion (he was attacked for popery and idolatry when he installed stained glass windows in Fredericton’s Christ Church Cathedral), his decree that Christians must come to know intimately the “sensuous beauty of all creation” (Ross 35) provided spiritual impetus for the poetic instincts of the Fredericton School of the Confederation Poets. Francis Sherman, the youngest member of that school, became the most consciously pre-Raphaelite under Medley’s influence. In the utilitarian Protestant New Brunswick of the mid-nineteenth-century, Medley’s teachings gave our poets’ imaginative work unusual relevance and sanction.

Tony Tremblay, Summer 2011
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Medley, John. A Charge to the Clergy of the Diocese, by John [Medley], Bishop of Fredericton, at his Fourth Triennial Visitation Holden in Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton. Fredericton, NB: J. Simpson, 1856.

---. Elementary Remarks on Church Architecture. Exeter, England: Kessinger Publishing, 1841.

---. The Episcopal Form of Church Government; Its Antiquity, Its Expediency, and Its Conformity to the Word of God. 1835. Rpt. Saint John, NB: W.L. Avery, 1845.

---. How the Mighty Are Fallen: A Sermon Preached at the Visitation of the Archdeacon M. Stevens. Exeter, England: n.p., 1840.

---. Hymns for Public Worship in the Diocese of Fredericton. Saint John: J. & A. McMillan, 1855.

---. Sermons, Published at the Request of Many of His Late Parishioners. Exeter and London: P.A. Hannaford, 1845.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Cooper, Timothy G. “Church Music in Nineteenth-Century Canada as Represented by the Choral Compositions of John Medley.” DMA thesis, U of Georgia, 1989.

Craig, Barry. Apostle to the Wilderness: Bishop John Medley and the Evolution of the Anglican Church. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.

Fairweather, E.R. “John Medley as Defender of ‘Ritualism’: An Unpublished Correspondence.” Canadian Journal of Theology 8 (1962): 208-11.

---. “A Tractarian Patriarch: John Medley of Fredericton.” Canadian Journal of Theology 6 (1960): 15-24.

“John Medley, 1804–1892.” Project Canterbury. 22 Jan. 2009

Ketchum, William Q. The Life and Work of the Most Reverend John Medley, D.D., First Bishop of Fredericton and Metropolitan of Canada. Saint John, NB: McMillan, 1893.

Purdy, J.D. “The Church of England in New Brunswick During the Colonial Era, 1783–1860.” MA thesis, U of New Brunswick, 1954.

Raymond, W.O. “John Medley.” Leaders of the Canadian Church. Ed. W.B. Heeney. 1st ser. Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1918. 97-134.

Richardson, D.S. “Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, New Brunswick.” MA thesis, Yale U, 1966.

Ross, Malcolm. “A Strange Aesthetic Ferment.” The Impossible Sum of Our Traditions: Reflections on Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986. 27-42.

Watson, Robert L. Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton: A History. Fredericton: The Bishop and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, 1984.