The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

This Feast of St. Sylvester So Well Deserves a Song

Song for New Year's Eve, Dec. 31

The Feast Day of St. Sylvester.

Author: Unknown

Tune: Neen Major Neale

The Kilmore Carols

Christmas Carols of Waddinge and Devereux

Source: Joseph Ranson, “The Kilmore Carols” from The Past, no. 5 (1949), pp. 86-87.

This feast of St. Sylvester so well deserves a song,
That you may justly wonder it was deferred so long.
He was the glorious pope that happily did bring
A peace into the Church by healing Constantine.

Eleven million of stout martyrs the rage of tyrants stood,
And sealed the heavenly testament of Jesus with their blood,
Which still increased the faithful for three hundred years;
Nothing was left for Christians but tortures, death and fears,

Till Constantine the Great, a pagan Emperor too,
His predecessors' steps resolving to pursue,
Was struck by the Almighty with a most filthy sore,
That with scabs and leprosy infects his body o’er.

A bath of infants' blood by witches was contrived;
This deed of Hell was ordered hoping to be relieved,
And like another Herod, he those harmless babes would slay,
Had not our Saint Sylvester cured him another way.

This pontiff by command of Heaven, brought from his cave,
Appeared before the Emperor, undaunted, stout and brave,
Reviled his black design, his magic art condemned,
Told him the only cure was to make God his friend.

The Emperor gladly listened and when instructed well,
Baptized by Saint Sylvester, the scabs all from him fell,
And now perfectly cleansed and to his health restored
Decreed the God of Christians alone should be adored.

And that the world he ruled, in faith might follow him,
In Rome to give a pattern, a temple did begin,
To honour great St Peter, Christ’s vicar here on earth,
Who suffered crucifixion, his head turned underneath.

Like unto a porter he charges with his cleeve,1
And twelve times full of it of rubbish doth receive,
To clear the first foundation of that majestic dome,
To honour the Apostles and expiate old Rome.

The face of things thus altered, this mighty prince thinks meet
To leave unto the Pope the Emperor's ancient seat,
And builds Constantinople, renowned for his name,
With other glorious deeds which eternize his fame.

The blood of martyrs ceased, the Christians leave their crypts,
And golden shines prepared to gather their relics
Their churches rise apace, the idols are pulled down;
Sylvester sits secure in Cæsar’s former throne.

That throne until this time was but by tyrants filled,
In naught but blood and plunder and man’s destruction skilled,
‘Tis now the seat of mercy, and to mankind doth dispense
The treasures of the Cross, of Faith and better sense.

See then have we not reason this feast to solemnize,
And Saint Sylvester's praises to raise above the skies;
An angel of sweet peace and safety unto men,
May we all by thy interest obtain a place in Heaven.

Sheet Music “The First Day of the Year” from Ranson, "The Kilmore Carols," p. 88.

Footnote from Joseph Ranson:

1. Cleeve Gaelic, Cliabh — a basket. It will be noticed that there are no Flemish words used as one would expect in any of the Carols. Return

Note from Joseph Ranson:

This song is sung to the air of that given for New Years Day, “This First Day of the Year.”

Editor's Note:

Pope Sylvester I was pope from 31 January 314 to 31 December 335, succeeding Pope Miltiades.

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