THE start of the George Herbert Festival in Salisbury and Bemerton will be marked by former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams blessing a special engraving by a local artist.

The engraving has been designed by Robyn Golden Hann and will be blessed on Friday.

It will later be set into the stonework at St Andrew’s Church, Bemerton.

The festival celebrates the prominent 17th-century literary and religious figure, who was Rector of the Parish of Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton between 1630 and 1633.

The writer of some of the most famous devotional poems in the English language, Herbert’s influence on British culture is profound and enduring, from A-level set texts to the work of contemporary writers such as Vikram Seth, who now lives in the Old Rectory where Herbert spent the final three years of his short life.

“Herbert’s poetry is valued for its clarity, wit, honesty and depth, and for his sheer skill as a wordsmith,” said Canon Judy Rees, chairman of the In Praise of George Herbert: Festival to Celebrate His Life and Work.

“It continues to touch and speak to our lives in the 21st century with remarkable power and relevance.”

The festival will see events held in and around Salisbury to celebrate Herbert’s time in Wiltshire and also his family connections to Wilton House, owned by the Pembroke family since 1541.

The first Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert, was Herbert’s distant cousin.

The poet was a frequent visitor to Wilton House and is said to have acted as chaplain to Philip Herbert (the fourth Earl) and his wife, Lady Anne Clifford.

A highlight of the festival will be the former archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Dr Williams giving a talk entitled Why Herbert Matters, at Salisbury Playhouse tonight.

Contributors from North America will join distinguished speakers from the UK such as Sir Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate, and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales.

The programme, organised by The George Herbert in Bemerton Group, is varied and includes presentations, talks, poetry readings, discussion groups, musical events, and local walks, all designed to enrich understanding and enjoyment of Herbert’s life and works.

To make the festival as accessible as possible, many events are free and some are aimed especially at young people.

In addition to a senior school discussion led by Dr Williams, there will be a junior school competition based on Herbert’s poem, The Flower.

In Praise of George Herbert: Festival to Celebrate His Life and Work runs from July 10 to 13.

Details are available at or by emailing

All event bookings are through Salisbury Playhouse at or on 01722 320333.