When polls are taken to determine the most popular American hymns, invariably near the top of the list is “The Old Rugged Cross.” It has been the most favored of the approximate 300 songs written by George Bennard, a minister ordained by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Old Rugged Cross
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
On one occasion, as Bernard was thinking of Christ’s crucifixion, an original melody ran through his mind. He later reported that although it was a complete melody, very few words came with it. He struggled to write some appropriate lyrics, but all that came was the passage, “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.” The song seemed to take shape in bits and pieces. Then he completed the chorus and was pleased with his efforts.
To borrow a variation of a word from the hymn, one knows that a song becomes emblematic of a genre or era when it is used in a movie. “The Old Rugged Cross” has this distinction in several films, including Pennies from Heaven (1978) and Gridlock (2007). It even appears in an episode of the popular and long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who.
Returning to the initial comment that many love this gospel song, and many love to hate it, this may be the result of the hymn’s emblematic nature. For some, this hymn stands for an era in American religious life that represents a personal faith at the exclusion of social holiness and an unredeemable sentimentalism.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
“The Old Rugged Cross” has proven to be extremely popular as a country gospel solo recorded by numerous artists. Below are videos of exceptional rendition of the hymn from our favorite artists.
- Alan Jackson. Click here to read the article.
2. Johnny Cash and June Carter
5. Rhonda Vincent
6. Elvis Presley
7. Mahalia Jackson
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