An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Little Gidding

The home of the community and household of prayer founded by Nicholas Ferrar (Feb, 22, 1592-Dec. 4, 1637) in Huntingdonshire, England, about 18 miles from Cambridge. Ferrar and his mother and some 40 members of his extended family and household retired to this deserted estate in 1625 and dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and Christian ministry. The mansion house was repaired and the little church, which had been used as a barn, was restored. Ferrar, a celibate, was ordained deacon in 1626. The community lived under a systematic rule of life based on the principles of the Church of England and the Prayer Book. Little Gidding was more a household and family with a shared life of prayer, charity, and work than a monastic community, but it has been seen as an experiment in family monastic living. Ferrar led the community in the Daily Offices of the church, the daily singing of the entire Psalter, hourly prayer offices throughout the day, and nightly vigils. The local vicar led the community in the celebration of Holy Communion on the first Sunday of every month. The Little Gidding community was quite generous in charity. They visited and helped the poor and sick and operated a dispensary. They also established a small academy for the education of children. Members of the community were involved in writing stories to illustrate themes of Christian faith and morality. The community was also involved in bookbinding and produced illustrated harmonies of the gospels. Ferrar died in 1637. He is commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Dec. 1. The Puritans opposed the Little Gidding community. A pamphlet titled The Arminian Nunnery (1646) criticized Little Gidding for attempting to introduce Roman Catholic practices in England. The community continued until 1646 when it was raided by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers and dispersed. “Little Gidding” is the title of the last of the Four Quartets (1935-1942) by the poet T. S. Eliot, who describes a place “Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more/ Than an order of words.” See Ferrar, Nicholas.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.