“Ivory Palaces”

TITLE: "Ivory Palaces"
AUTHOR: Henry Barraclough, 1891-1983
COMPOSER: Henry Barraclough
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3076
SOURCE: The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal (1938), no. 191
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 45:6-8
TOPIC: anointing, eternity/eternal life, garments, fragrance, healing, wholeness, house of God, sorrow, joy, struggle, affliction, Christ's Passion


Henry Barraclough was born December 14, 1891, in Yorkshire, England. He began his piano and organ studies at the age of five. As a young man, he worked as a claims adjuster for an auto insurance firm. From 1911-1913, he served as secretary to George Scott Robertson, a Member of Parliament. Following that, Barraclough became the pianist for the evangelistic team of Wilbur J. Chapman, his song leader Charles Alexander, and soloist Albert Brown. While pianist for the team, Barraclough traveled to the United States and fought in World War I. From 1919-1961, he served first as secretary and later as administrator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. He is credited as the author of twenty hymns and the composer of 120 tunes. He died in August 1983 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the summer of 1915, Barraclough was with the evangelistic team at the Presbyterian Montreat Conference Center in the hills near Asheville, North Carolina. During the conference, Chapman preached one night on Psalm 45; and verse eight caught Barraclough's attention: "All thy garments shall smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces…." It was one of Chapman's favorite themes. He had even written a book twenty-two years earlier, Ivory Palaces of the King. After the service, the team drove through the mountains, stopping at a country store. As they were stopped, Barraclough remained in the car contemplating the message, and the phrases of the hymn refrain took shape. He wrote them down. After returning to the hotel, he worked out the verses and rest of the hymn. Mrs. Alexander and singer Albert Brown sang the song as a duet for the next morning's service.


The words of "Ivory Palaces," suggested by evangelist Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman's sermon at the Montreat Conference Center, are inspired by Psalm 45:8, in which Christ is pictured "coming out of the ivory palaces of heaven to redeem the world, clothed in garments that are perfumed with myrrh for beauty, with aloes for bitterness, and with cassia for healing, the fragrance of which remains to tell of His near presence" (Songs of Faith and Triumph). Billy Graham describes this Psalm as "a prophetic, 'Messianic' psalm which speaks of the relationship of Christ, the bridegroom, to his bride, the church."

"Ivory Palaces" does not exhibit the highest of poetic heights contained in English language hymnody (see stanza three) and many have avoided it because of its emotional sentimentality. But it is a product of its time -- as were many other similar gospel songs so frequently sung in worship during the early years of the twentieth century and still today, such as "In the Garden" and "The Old Rugged Cross," both from 1913.

Stanza one of "Ivory Palaces" describes Christ in his glory in heaven. Stanza two includes his death on the cross to bear our sin. Stanza three describes Christ as healer and savior. Stanza four contains the promise of life eternal. All four sequential stanzas are unified by the presence and description of Christ's garments, taken from the Psalm.


The lilting 6/4 melody can almost take on the character of a waltz if sung too quickly. As an early twentieth-century gospel song, it would typically have been sung slowly with much expression, perhaps even rubato. The setting in Songs of Faith and Triumph is even marked with the instruction, "Slowly, softly, and with much expression." Settings in older songbooks may include some cross-voicing between tenor and alto. Some newer publications eliminate the fermatas. There are also differences between songbooks as to the number and placement of fermatas. The fermatas in the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal and in Worship & Song are identical.

The refrain is composed as a duet with the melody in the alto voice through the word "great." On the next word, "eternal," the melody shifts back to the soprano. The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal setting has the first line of the refrain marked as a duet, with full chorus on the first half of the second line, and duet again at the close. To underscore the duet, the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal also changes to piano accompaniment for the sections marked duet and SATB choral writing for the full chorus section.

The musical choice with "Ivory Palaces" is how much or even whether to embrace the more sentimental style in which the song was composed and first sung. Older members of the congregation who remember singing this hymn in their youth from the "old Cokesbury" may be expecting such a rendering. Younger musicians and those less inclined to a historic performance practice may take comfort in this instruction from the song's commentary in the Leader's Edition of Worship & Song (p.3207): "It should be sung in a slow "two," in order to keep it from dragging or becoming too schmaltzy." Both performances are equally valid and are a matter of personal preference.


Songs of Faith and Triumph, B.D. Ackley, Adam Geibel, J. Lincoln Hall, C. Austin Miles, editors. Philadelphia: Hall-Mack Company, 1924.

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