Reginald Heber (1783 – 1826) was an English clergyman, traveller, man of letters and hymn-writer who, after working as a country parson for 16 years, served as the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta until his sudden death at the age of 42.
Reginald Heber wrote "Holy, Holy, Holy" while serving as vicar of Hodnet, Shropshire, England. He was the first to compile a hymnal ordering hymns around the church calendar. Wanting to celebrate a triune God, Heber wrote "Holy, Holy, Holy" for Trinity Sunday–a day that reaffirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and was observed eight Sundays after Easter. The hymn was first published in 1826.
Years later, John Dykes composed the tune Nicaea especially for Heber’s "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Text and tune were first published together in 1861. Since that time, this popular hymn has appeared in hundreds of hymnals and been translated into many languages.
The son of a wealthy landowner and clergyman, Heber gained an early reputation at Oxford University as a poet. After graduation he expanded his view of the world by undertaking, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, an extended tour of Scandinavia, Russia and central Europe. He was ordained in 1807, and took over his father’s old parish of Hodnet in Shropshire. He combined his pastoral duties with other church offices, hymn-writing, and more general literary work which included a critical study of the complete works of the 17th-century cleric Jeremy Taylor.
Heber was impressed by the holiness of God. Whether in England, with the prevalence of vice, or in Calcutta, where people worshiped idols, he would often write "Only Thou art holy." Based on the words of Revelation 4:8, he used the symbolism of three repeatedly throughout his hymn: God is "holy, merciful and mighty," he’s "perfect in power, in love and purity," he’s worshiped by saints, cherubim, and seraphim, and he’s praised "in earth and sky and sea."
Through these consistent units of three, this hymn describes and worships God in three persons. Alfred Lord Tennyson felt "Holy, Holy, Holy" was the world’s greatest hymn
John Dykes (1823-1876) was also English and both minister and musician. At age 12, Dykes became assistant organist at St. John’s Church in Hull, where his grandfather was vicar. He studied at Wakefield and St. Catherine’s Hall in Cambridge and earned a BA in Classics. In 1848, he became curate at Malton, Yorkshire. For a short time, he was canon of Durham Cathedral, then precentor (1849-1862). In 1862 he became Vicar of St. Oswald’s, Durham (he named a son John St. Oswald Dykes, and one of his tunes St. Oswald).
John Dykes composed the tune Nicaea for this hymn in 1861.It references the Sanctus, which is often called the "Holy holy holy" in English. Dykes published sermons and articles on religion, but is best known for composing over 300 hymn tunes