G K Chesterton is said to have thought of this as the typical hymn and took it as the model for his own ‘O God of earth and altar’. S S Wesley wrote the tune in 1864, when he recognized it—the story goes—as a winner, and the company present in his house sang it to ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ from which his wife named it ‘Aurelia’ (‘aurum’ is the Latin for gold). It was set to the present words in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern. The words were written in 1866, at a time when it seemed that the very foundations of the Church were under attack by reason of the new critical studies of the Bible. The particular occasion was a book by Bishop Colenso of Natal which, among other things, questioned whether it was physically possible for such vast number of Israelites to have been in the desert with Moses. It is not unusual, it seems, for the Church to seem to be in danger, though the present generation may not wish to encourage each other in quite these words.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2001