‘Rock of Ages’ was written by Augustus Toplady (1770-1778). A popular story associated with the hymn is that Toplady wrote it while sheltering under a rock in Burrington Combe, North Somerset during a thunderstorm. It was first printed in Gospel Magazine in 1776 and appeared in the same year in Toplady’s collection of hymns called Psalms and Hymns.
In the United Kingdom it is sung most often to a tune by the British composer and organist Richard Redheard (1820-1901). This tune first appeared in Redhead’s 1853 collection of tunes called, Church Hymn Tunes, Ancient & Modern. The first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (published in 1861) named the tune PETRA, which is Latin for ‘rock’. In North America the tune associated with this hymn is TOPLADY by Thomas Hastings (1783-1872), an American composer. Johnny Cash covered this tune.
Toplady wrote many hymns of which ‘Rock of Ages’ is still perhaps his most widely known. Another hymn he wrote, ‘Blest are the saints, O God’, still appears in some hymnals and is sung to either MOUNT EPHRAIM or CAMBRIDGE.
PETRA – one of the tunes to which Toplady’s hymn is often sung (played here on the Snetzler Organ in the New Room Chapel, Bristol.