[Today’s article is by Paul Seawright, the award-winning photographer for the newly released book, Abide With Me, from New Leaf Press.] 

Our first exploratory trip around Britain on the trail of sites relevant to great hymn writers was almost four years ago. I was living in Wales at the time, yet most of the places we visited were as new to me as they were to John [Parker] who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s always better to photograph unfamiliar places as they inevitably surprise you. We had both researched the sites and thought we knew what we might find and photograph. In reality it was often incidental moments and situations that presented the most inspirational subject matter.

Close to the end of our first tour of England we arrived in the small coastal town of Brixham in Devon. We had been fortunate enough to secure rooms at the Berry Head Hotel, perched on a rocky peninsula overlooking a beautiful bay. It was late afternoon and as John descended the path from the garden down to the sea, I began to make photographs of the evening sun playing on the side of the sprawling Victorian building, once the home of Henry Lyte. As I worked in the fading light a man sat on a bench in the garden to enjoy the setting sun over the water. It was as I photographed him silhouetted against the sky that I knew the project would be a success.

Henry Lyte wrote the words, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, when darkness deepens, Lord with me abide,” in this very garden. He, too, had looked out over that exact view all those years ago as the sun fell. The seascape I was photographing was as unchanged as the words that it inspired; words still sung in churches all over the world. At breakfast I showed John the picture of the anonymous man in Lytes garden and immediately we started making new plans…

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[The newest book from New Leaf Press, Abide With Me, is focused on ‘place.’ It’s about the places and songwriters in England and Wales where the greatest British hymns were written, and where the stories of the men and women who wrote them unfolded. ]

On the north coast of England, for instance, silhouetted against the grey sky and dark sea, stand the ruins of Whitby Abbey. There in the sixth century a common sheepherder named Caedmon wrote the earliest surviving hymn penned in English. During the following centuries – Middle Ages, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century – men and women devoted to Christ and blessed with the gift of poetry composed the words of English hymns sung in Britain, America, and around the globe. Generation after generation, these beautiful songs were sung in times of happiness, grief, joy, fear and wonder. Here are the places those writers lived and their life stories.

Stroll through the quaint Cotswolds, the beautiful Lake District, bustling London, and the glorious poppy-bedecked English countryside as you meet the great minds whose works have inspired, uplifted, and carried us through the tragedies and triumphs of our lives. This is a journey of the heart and soul – a meandering through your own spirituality.

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19.

[Abide With Me will be released by New Leaf Press in April 2009. Order online and save 20%.]