The meditation on the Cross that has endured for a century and a half
The Scottish hymn-writer Elizabeth Clephane penned “Beneath The Cross of Jesus” (1868) and it was published in the Family Treasury (1872) a year after she passed away. She and her sister were orphaned at a very young age but she focused her energies on doing things for other people and lived a very charitable life which earned her the nickname “Sunbeam” in her hometown, Melrose.
Elizabeth Clephane loved poetry and loved writing hymns equally. She based this hymn on Isaiah 32:1-2, and everyone could immediately relate to what she’d written about a weary land without her directly referring to Jesus who is on the cross that comforts the person at the foot. A weary land in which the cool resting place is the shadow beneath Jesus’ cross as if to say Jesus shields his believers from the harsh elements in the wilderness. This and another popular Clephane narrative poem, “There were ninety and nine that safely lay” were published in Sacred Songs and Solos (1873) and heavily-promoted by American songwriter Ira Sangky. Sanky, the song leader for Dwight Moody who held regular evangelistic events discovered “Beneath The Cross of Jesus” and popularized it, making it the everlasting Lenten hymn it is.
English musician Frederick Maker composed “St.Christopher” which he used as the melody for Elizabeth Clephane’s poetry. At the time, the hymn’s harmonies characterized the entire output but in the case of “Beneath The Cross of Jesus” composed during the Romantic era, both tune and singing would get syncopated or there would be surprising accents falling where you least expect them to. The gentle melody created by Maker fits the rich symbolism accorded by Clephane on being sheltered at the foot of Jesus’ Cross.