Monday, September 24, 2012

The Old Rugged Cross - 100th Anniversary

It was 100 years ago this year that the Reverend George Bennard wrote what many consider to be the most beloved hymn of all time, "The Old Rugged Cross." "I seemed to have a vision . . . I saw the Christ and the cross inseparable," he wrote in his memoirs. He wrote the song over a month in 1912 as he traveled to revival meetings. The melody came easily, but he labored over the words in the four verses and refrain. The hymn, published in 1913, was immediately successful. Bennard (pronounced Benn-ARD), who was born in Youngstown, Ohio, was the son of George and Margaret Russell Bennard, of Scottish descent. The couple, who had five other children, moved their family to Albia, Iowa, where the senior Bennard ran a tavern. When the tavern burned, the father turned to mining coal. An accident led to his death at 49, forcing young George, at 16, to support his mother and sisters as a miner. In 1895, at age 24, Bennard became a minister when he enlisted in the Salvation Army at Rock Island, Illinois. By 1898, he was conducting revival meetings throughout the Midwest, later transferring to New York, where he resigned in 1910 to go out on his own as a Methodist evangelist. It was at that time that he began composing hymns. Bennard settled at Albion, Michigan and opened his own hymn publishing company. It was there that he likely began writing The Old Rugged Cross. The hymn was first sung formally at a revival meeting at Pokagon, Michigan. Evangelist Billy Sunday popularized the hymn on his nationally broadcast radio show. By 1939, more than 15 million copies had been sold and numerous recordings made. In all, Bennard composed about 350 hymns but none was as successful as "The Old Rugged Cross." He died of asthma in Reed City, Michigan on October 10, 1958.

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