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Thomas Ken (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath & Wells

Bishop Thomas Ken lies buried in our churchyard and is remembered in the nearby Ken Chapel and in a floor stone just inside the west door.

He lived at a time when complacency was widespread throughout the Church of England, the country was more intent on enjoying the seven deadly sins than the seven virtues after the long Lent of the Commonwealth. Ken was renowned for the holiness and austerity of his life. He wrote manuals of prayers, and is best remembered today as a writer of hymns. He wrote the morning and evening hymns ‘Awake my soul’ and ‘Glory to thee my God’. 

Charles II appointed Ken Bishop of Bath & Wells in 1684. There Ken worked with the poor, regularly sharing his Sunday lunch with 12 poor men and women. When Charles II died, Ken swore allegiance to his successor James II. He wrote more manuals and set up charity schools, with Lord Weymouth, in all great towns of the diocese.


The Monmouth Rebellion saw Wells taken by the rebels and, on their capture, great cruelty to them by Kirke and Judge Jefferies. Ken visited those in jail, protested at the cruelty and remonstrated with Judge Jefferies. He clashed again with Judge Jefferies in 1688 and was sent to the Tower for seditious libel (he had preached and petitioned against James II’s ‘Declaration of Indulgence’). When James II fled the country and William of Orange took over, Ken refused to swear an oath of allegiance to William – feeling that he could not break his existing oath to James II. He forfeited his see and lived the rest of his life at Longleat with Lord Weymouth. He is buried here at St John’s – at the time, the nearest parish church in his old diocese of Bath & Wells.

The Ken stone was installed through the generosity of Roy Randall, a loyal server here for more than 60 years. It was blessed by the Very Revd Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath & Wells, on 12th January 2020. It is inscribed with the words of one of Bishop Ken's most famous prayers:

O God, make the door of this Church

wide enough to receive all

who need human love and fellowship,

and narrow enough to shut out all

envy, pride, and strife.

Make its threshold smooth enough

to be no stumbling block to children,

nor to straying feet,

but rugged and strong enough

to turn back the tempter's power.

God - make the door of this church

the gateway to your eternal kingdom.


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In 2020, during the pandemic, when the doors of our church had to be closed rather than open and welcoming, Rev Colin Alsbury prepared this short video to commemorate Thomas Ken:

You can read more about the life of Thomas Ken by clicking on the link below. The booklet is also available on our book stall at the back of church.

The Ken Chapel

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