The Hymns and Carols of Christmas


S. Baring-Gould

For R. R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons), 1894 [The Complete Edition]

Table of Contents

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the South of Europe was deeply infected with Manicheism. The Paulicians, expelled Asia Minor by the Empress Theodora, in AD 842, settled in Bulgaria, among the valleys of the Haemus. Bulgaria became permeated by them. Bulgarian Christianity disappeared under them, never again to acquire active life. The swarm of heretics increased in the absence of persecution, and, through conversion of the semi-Christianised natives, Bulgaria could not contain them or their doctrine. A stream forced a way round the head of the Adriatic, and spread over Northern Italy and Southern France. In the 11th century scarce a city in Italy was free from a colony of Manicheans; the country-people were deeply infected with their doctrine. At the accession of Innocent III, Manicheism was almost undisputed master of Southern France. In Italy it was called Paterinism; in Provence, Albigensianism. In the meantime another stream had entered Germany, and troubled the empire. 1 The Beghards (a corruption of Bulgarian) carried their doctrine through Northern Europe, and laid the seeds of the revolt of the Hussites under Zisca with the Flail.

Western Manicheism, whether that of the Patrines, Albigenses, or Beghards, 2 held that matter was evil; the world, the flesh, were the work of the Demiurge, the maker of this world, and God of the Jews and of the Old Testament, and therefore with no good in them ; whereas the Gospel was the revelation of the Good God, who was the author of spirit. The fall of man was the entrance of soul into relation with body; the emancipation of the soul from its carnal chain was salvation. In such a religion the Incarnation had no real place; and we find, accordingly, that the Flesh-taking of the Word was formally denied by all the sects of Manicheism throughout Europe. Christianity in Southern France had disappeared before Manicheism. It was professed only by the clergy and a few followers; nobles and common people were united in their profession of the Duality of Matter and Spirit; in the opposition of the God of the Creation to the God of the Gospel. Italy was threatened with the same apostacy. The sword of the Crusaders, under Simon de Montfort, swept it out of Provence. A more peaceful hand of Crusaders marched against the heretics in Italy, and overcame them. This band was called forth by the great Francis of Assisi. His great community, ramifying through every class, by means of the Third Order, caught all earnest religious souls, and bound them by enthusiasm to his Rule. The tide which had set in this direction of Paterinism turned and flowed into the Franciscan Order, which met the peculiar wants and prejudices of those whom Manicheism had previously enticed, in a very remarkable manner. 3

S. Francis could not fail to be struck with the necessity of bringing home to the hearts and imagination of the vulgar the great doctrine of the Incarnation. This was the foundation-stone of Christianity. It was because they stood loosely upon it, that the people had fallen such a ready prey to Manicheism. The Incarnation had been set forth by theologians, for the commonly-taught orthodox, in the sublime song of the "Quicunque vult”; it must be brought down to the level of the lowest, if they were to grasp it with unshaken enthusiasm. He had brooded over this difficulty for some time. At last he saw his way out of it. In the winter of 1223, S. Francis was at Rome, seeking the confirmation of his Rule. On the 29th of November, the Order was sanctioned in full form by Honorius III, by Papal Ball, and letters commendatory to all the bishops of Christendom. Then, when Francis had received the confirmation of his life's work, he fell at the feet of the Pope, and made one more request, and that of a different character. He asked to be allowed to introduce into churches, which he was permitted to use, certain ceremonies at Christmas, which had suggested themselves to him as likely to seize upon the popular imagination, and impress the unlearned folks, in a way which sermons and catechisms were unable to effect. This also was granted him.

When he made this petition, he was bound for the village of Grecia, a little place not far from Assisi, where he was to spend Christmas.

What follows shall be fold in the words of his latest English biographer: 4

"In this village, when the eve of the Nativity approached, Francis instructed a certain grave and worthy man, called Giovanni, to prepare an ox and an ass, along with a manger and all the common fittings of a stable for his use, in the church. When the solemn night arrived, Francis and his brethren arranged all these things into a visible representation of the occurrences of the night at Bethlehem. The manger was filled, with hay, the animals were led into their places; the scene was prepared as we see it now through the churches of Southern Italy — a reproduction, so far as the people knew how, in startling realistic detail, of the surroundings of the first Christmas. And it may be interesting to the modern traveller to know, when he looks on at the quaint Christmas celebration of the Ara Coeli at Rome, or is led with fond pride by some poor Italian through a succession of narrow lanes to see the Praesepio (or cradle) in the parish church or convent chapel, that the scene on which he looks is an appeal to the popular imagination first originated by Francis in the church of his Umbrian village six hundred years ago.

“The original occurrence is full of that honest and literal simplicity which pervades every scene in which we find the humble apostle. The population of the neighbourhood rose as one man to the characteristic call. They gathered round the village church with tapers and torches, making luminous the December night. The brethren within the church, and the crowds of tine faithful who came and went with their lights, in and out of the darkness, poured out their hearts in praises to God; and the friars sang new canticles, which were listened to with all the eagerness of a people accustomed to wandering jongleurs and minstrels, and to whom such songs were all the food to be had for the intellect and imagination. No doubt the mystic songs of Francis were among' those sacred ballads; and that, in the crowd there were many who could take up the chorus of the glowing hymn, 'In fuoco amor mi mise' (‘Love sets my heart on fire'), or could answer in those oft-repeated refrains,''Amor, amor, Jesu,” in the words which the Brothers Minor were used to sing about the rural ways. In the midst of this glowing and agitated scene, Francis himself stood rapt by the side of the manger, in which his faith could picture to itself the first cradle of his Lord. . . . We are told that Francis stood by this, his simple theatrical (for such, indeed, it was — no shame to him) representation all the night long, sighing for joy, and filled with unspeakable sweetness. His friend, Giovanni, looking on, had a vision while he stood apart, gazing and wondering at the saint. Giovanni saw, or dreamed, that a beautiful infant — a child dead or in a trance — lay in the manger which he had himself prepared; and that, as Francis bent over the humble bed, the babe slowly awoke, and stretched out its arms towards him. It was the child Christ, dead in the hearts of a careless people, dead or lost in the slumber of a wicked world, but waking up to new life, and kindling the whole slumberous universe around Him, at the touch and breath of that supreme love which was in His servant's heart."

S. Francis was remarkable, not only for originating these cribs of Bethany, now seen in every Roman Catholic church throughout the world, and in many a Lutheran Christmas home, but also in being the first to feel the power of his vernacular tongue, and to use it for sacred songs. The first rude effort to use Italian for popular hymns and carols was made by S. Francis. His "Song of the Creatures" was the beginning of a national poetry which, sixty years later, reached a climax in the Divine Comedy of Dante. S. Francis set the example — introduced a new power. It was felt at once. There is something as touching in the story of his first introduction to the people of divine psalmody in their own tongue, as there is in the narrative of his institution of the praesepio. In an ecstasy he had composed an Italian hymn of praise to God, a sort of Benedicite, in which be calls on all creatures to glorify their Creator. And when he thought it was finished, he heard that a quarrel had broken out in Assisi between the bishop and the magistrates about some petty matter, and the bishop had laid an interdict on the town, and the magistrates, in turn, had outlawed the bishop. S. Francis was deeply affected by this miserable, unchristian strife; and finding that it dragged on unhealed, his heart, plowed within him, and he added a verse to his hymn: —

"And praised is my Lord
By those who, for Thy love, pardon afford,
And meekly bear the wrongs of men.
Blessed are those who suffer thus in peace,
By Thee, the Highest, to be crowned in heaven."

Then "he commanded his disciples to go boldly and seek the great people of the town, and beg them to meet at the bishop's palace." The name of Francis was so potent that it was instantly obeyed. The angry magistrates met in the hall of the indignant bishop in sullen silence, and the few humble Franciscan friars stood between them. Instead of delivering a harangue, a homily from S. Francis, they lifted up their voices, and sang his “Carol of the Creatures." At the sound of the words, in their own Italian tongue, the hearts of bishop and magistrates grew soft; and when the last verse was snug, they rushed into each other's arms, and asked pardon mutually.

Such was the origin of vernacular Italian religious hymns. The companions and disciples of S. Francis continued his work, and their labours have found a modern eloquent historian in M. Ozanam. 5

The praesepio, crêche, or krippe called forth the first carols. There may have been stray Christmas hymns in the vernacular before, but it was not till the Christmas crib was set up in Minorite chapels, and from thence spread to all Christian churches, that they burst forth throughout the length and breadth of Western Christendom. The representation called for the carol, and the carol, becoming familiar, was sung where there was no crib. 6

The Franciscan Manger of the Holy Night assumed another form in the Christmas mysteries, theatrical performances representing the Nativity. These were sometimes performed in churches, but probably not often. At Bayeux, in 1351, Jean de Montdesert, cure of S. Malo, in Bayeax, was fined by the Chapter for having had the "Mystery of the Birth of Christ” performed in his church on Christmas Day, 1350. These mysteries contained carols — popular carols — introduced into them to enliven the acting. In the "Mystere de l’Incarnation et Nativite de Notre-Seigneur Jesus Christ” 7 probably of the year 1474, published by the Brothers Parfait, 8 God the Father orders Gabriel to go to Mary, and announce to her that she is to become the mother of Messiah. Then follows the rubric :— “Adonc chantent le premier vers de la chanson qui suit; et puis les jouers d'instrumens derriere les Anges repetent iceluy vers, et tandis les Anges qui tiennent les instrumens font maniere de jouer. Apres les Anges chantent le second vers, et puis les instrumens tout le premier et. puis la fin” This is the carol :—

"Au. nonveau sceu de la Conception
Du Fils de Dieu, pour la Redemption;
Qui veult faire d’humaine Creatu ------ re ;
Qui estoit cheue en pe - - - chie et ordu - - re ;
Chacun au ciel maine exul ----- tation.
Faisons grand bruit, chansons multiplions,
Toutes nos voix ensemble despleons
Nul ne se faigne, et chacun y ait cure.

TENOR.     Au nouveau sceu.

CONTRA-TENOR     Au nouveau sceu.

CONCORDANS                 Au nouveau sceu.

"Des instrumens prenons ung million,
En encors plus, bref tout y employon,
Car aujourd'huy a uni sa facture
Avecques soy le hault Dieu de Nature,
Et a tousjours, sans separation.
Au nouveau sceu."

"When Christ is born the angels again burst out into a carol, with instruments: -

“Au saint naistre du sacre Roy des roys,
Qui de present est en terre accomply;
Soyons joyeulx, a haulte et clere voix.

And then follows a round, with the refrain, "Loe soit Dieu."

Another mystery of the Nativity, published at Lyons, in 1539, states in its title that it contains carols as well — "Chant -Natal contenant sept Noelz, ung Chant Pastoral, et ung Chaut Royal, avec ung Mystere de la Nativite, par Personnaiges, composez en imitation verbale, et Musicale de divers Chansons, recuillez sur l'Escripture Saincte, et. d'jcelle illustrez." Whilst Joseph and Mary are on their way to Bethlehem, they sing a carol, "sar le chant, Le plus souvent tant il m'ennuye."

The annunciation to the shepherds is to the strain of an old Noel—

"Pastenrs, qui veillez aux champs, (bis)
Oyez mes dicts, et mes chants, (bis)
Je vous annonce la nouvelle
Joyeax pour vous:
Dieu est ne ----
Pour rachepter tous.
Allez et l'adorez a genoux."

They go to the stables singing a carol, the refrain of which is "Gloria in excelsis Deo"; and, on reaching it, form round the crib, and sing another on the tune of "Sauvez m'y donc quand yous irez."

"Chantons Noel, quand nous irons
Garder nos brebiettes sur l'herbe,
Sur l'herbe."

Then David announces on his harp the coming of the Magi, and they arrive and present their gift, each singing an eight-line verse, ending with—

“Ou est-il ne, afin que je l'adore?"—

which was the refrain taken up in chorus.

This is a remarkable specimen of a mystery composed out of carols. It contains about 300 lines and is wholly composed of songs and noels.

Another curious "Comédie de la Nativité de Jésus Christ" was composed by Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre, 9 and it also contains popular carols. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem, and search in vain for shelter of three hosts, who refuse them what they ask on different pretexts. One only takes in rich folk, the second only royalty, the third only those who will fiddle and dance. Then Joseph and Mary retire to a stable, and there the Saviour of the world is born. The angels declare His birth to shepherds and shepherdesses, who come singing the following carol, with chorus, to the stable:—



Dansons, chantons, faisons rage,
Pius qu'avons grace pour pardon.
Chantons Noel de bon courage,
Car nous avons Christ en pardon.




Saissons Adam, et son lineage,
Pins avec luy ne demeurons;
Quit-oils tons nostrc vieil bagage,
Chevres, Brebis, Cliens, et Moutons;
Chantons Noel, &c.



Allons voir Marie la Sage,
Avec l'enfant de grant renom ;
Dont les Anges en donx langage,
Nous on fait un si beau sermon.
Chantons Noel, &c.

And so it runs on, sometimes a solo by Dorothea, Chirstella, Philetina, Sophron, &c., sometimes a duet between shepherd and shepherdess, and the chorus breaking in at intervals.

This singular piece begins, as will be seen, with an invitation to dance as well as sing; and there can be little doubt that some of the carols were sung to a measure accompanied by rhythmic motions of the body, a sort of solemn sacred dance. S. Ouen, in his life of S. Eligius, couples carols with songs and dances, 10 but these accompanied "diabolical songs"; the sacred carol was not then known. The name carol is possibly indebted to the same derivative as quadrille and carillon, a song, or dance, or chime, performed by four persons or bells arranged in a square.

The trace of the dance accompanying the carol lingers on to this day. Originally the dance was performed along with profane songs in churches. Religious dances were in vogue among the Romans. They were largely practised also among the Keltic Druids, in honour of Ceridwen. When Christianity became the religion of the nations which had practised these religious dances, the Church found great difficulty in suppressing them. Two courses were open to her—either to put them down wholly, or to wash them in pure water, sanctify, and adopt them as drama both to teach and interest the multitude.

In some places she found it necessary to set her face determinedly against them, whilst in other places she tolerated and even sanctioned them.

In 589, the Third Council of Toledo (can. 22.) forbade the people dancing through the vigils of saints' days. In 590, the Council of Auxerre forbade secular dances in churches (can. 9). 11 In 858, Gautier, Bishop of Orleans, condemned the rustic songs and female dancers who performed in the Presbytery on Festivals of the Church.

As early as the 9th century, Pope Eugenius II prohibited dancing and singing base songs in church. Even in 533, the Council of Orleans had forbidden the fulfilment of vows made to sing and dance in churches, "for that such vows anger God, rather than appease Him."

In 1209, the Council of Avignon prohibited theatrical dances and secular songs in. churches. In 1212, processions danced round the churches of Paris, and women danced in the cemeteries. In the 17th century, the apprentices and servants of York were accustomed to dance in the nave of the Minster on Shrove Tuesday; and Dean Lake was almost killed by the apprentices for endeavouring to prevent their intrusion into the sacred building for this purpose. There was a curious tenure in Wiltshire, by which the inhabitants of Wishford and Batford went up in a dance annually to Salisbury Cathedral. On Tuesday in Whitsuntide, till the French Revolutionary soldiers destroyed the Cathedral of S. Lambert at Liege, on that day a deputation of the inhabitants of Verviers danced under the corona in the nave, headed by a cross. The deputation consisted of certain magistrates and clergy of Verviers. To this day, a dancing procession, chanting a curious carol, takes place at Echternach, in Luxemburg, on Tuesday in Whitsun week. It is called the Procession of the Jumping Saints—"Springende Heiligen." It consists of a long train of pilgrims; dancing three paces forward and then backward. The pilgrims are headed by the clergy, all dancing. They dance from the bridge over Sauer to the church, round the altar, and separate at the cross in the cemetery. It is to this day a very popular pilgrimage. In 1869, there were 8000 persons in the procession. 12

Religious dances are also by no means infrequent in Spain. The following is an account of a Shrove Tuesday performance in the Cathedral at Seville, where it is gone through on that day, on the feast of Corpus Christi, or on that of the Immaculate Conception. The account is from the Daily Telegraph of February 22, 1875, and is part of a letter from the special correspondent.

"It was my fortune on Tuesday afternoon to behold the performance of an escuela de baile of a thoroughly exceptional and of a must surprising nature. I never in my life saw such a sight before; nor, I suppose, am I likely ever to see it again. It was in the Cathedral. The watchful Barlow had warned me that something very curious indeed to view would take place in the great Basilica either a little before or a little after six; and that I was bound even to forego the table d'höte in order to witness it. The sun was setting in the national Spanish colours, bright orange and deep red, as we passed through the noble Moorish gateway—it dates from the twelfth century—called the Puerta del Perdou, and crossing the Patio de las Naranjas, a forecourt full of orange trees hundreds of years old, entered the Cathedral by the portal closest to the Giralda. When from day or even twilight you lift the leathern veil of the doorway and pass into this tremendous fane, you can at first perceive nothing whatsoever. The best thing you can do is to shut your eyes, and allow yourself to be guided onwards for a time. Then lift your eyelids cautiously, and turn your head to either side, and you will begin gradually to discern the enormous columns and the vasty bays around you. By degrees I found that the trascoro and the central nave were full of people, nearly all ladies, who were not kneeling, but sitting oa the pavement in Oriental fashion, as is customary in Spanish churches when something extraneous to the ordinary ecclesiastical ritual is being performed. Carefully picking my way through the recumbent groups, I came at last within view of the sanctuary and the high altar, which were all ablaze with lights. But there were no celebrants on the altar steps, no acolytes, and not so much as a single minor canon in the stalls, which I thought strange. The funcion was evidently not vespers. What was it? Bound the great lectern of the coro, with its huge illuminated music book, every minim and crotchet as tall as drumsticks, were gathered a dozen of the youngest choristers singing away like so many dying swans. But it was no ordinary chant these children, with their deliciously sweet and clear and silvery voices, sang. It was something quicker, livelier, more jubilant, and, as it seemed to me, more secular than anything I had heard before in a Catholic place of worship, and the singing was accompanied by music quite as gleesome from a band of wind and string instruments. The chant culminated in a ringing exulting pæen of joy; and then, to my utter amazement and bewilderment, the twelve young choristers began to dance round the lectern and before the high alter – absolutely, literally and operatically to dance. It was the escuela de baile without girl performers, and under the highest, ecclesiastical auspices. At the close of the proceedings the choristers ranged themselves in line, and a regular and most harmonious fantasia on the castanets was performed. Again, and once again, did the band strike up, and the merry chant, ending with the exulting pæen, was sung, and twice and thrice did the sound of the castanets click through the huge expanse of the mighty Cathedral of Seville. Then I waited to see the little choristers file out of the choir, and down the nave, out of the gate of San Cristobal to their school-house on the other side. They trooped onwards a demure band of plump, black-eyed, swarthy little fellows, all clad in antique Spanish costume of crimson and yellow doublets and trunk hose, rosettes in their shoes, highly-starched ruffs, and rapiers and plumed hats. Now this spectacle anywhere out of Spain, or indeed out of Seville, might have appeared utterly grotesque, unseemly, and indecent. There it appeared quite natural, normal, and in keeping with the surroundings. The castanets dance before the altar was, I was told, a privilege enjoyed solely by the Cathedral of Seville, and was indulged in only thrice a year.”

While upon this subject I cannot refrain from quoting two very curious instances of saints leaping for joy in their ecstasy of devotion. One is S. Joseph of Cupertino, an ecstatic Franciscan friar, who, one Christmas night, arrayed for Benediction, heard the pfifferari performing Christmas carols outside the church, and at once sprang to the altar, and thence, at one bound, habited in cope, into the pulpit. On another occasion the beautiful hymns made him dance in the middle of the church. The other instance is S. Peter Balsam, who was alone, as he thought, before a statue of the Virgin Mother with the Divine Infant on her knee, and was so overcome by his emotion that he began to dance before it. He was observed by a companion.

The EPIPHANY was also provided with its carols and mysteries, and peculiar dramatical ritual in churches, to impress its significance on the popular mind. The Magi were represented by choristers costumed fantastically, who issued from different corners of the church, as though from different, regions of the globe, to meet before the altar. In the Office Book .of Rouen, it was ordered that after Terce, the middle king should issue from the east side, the second from the right, the third from the left side of the church. In one of the forms used by the performers, which dates from the 12th century, one of the dramatis personæ is an Englishman, and he is thus addressed :—

"Quid stas, quod stupes, bos Britannice?"

to which he replies—"Sto, stupeo, stimulum quaero, ut pugnam bovem Gallicum." 13 One of the performers was always black—this was Gaspar. 14 In a sequence of the 16th century we have the following ;—

"Gaudete vos fideles, gentium pars electa
Æthiopum rigredo in Judæam est translata.'' 15

And the carol singers soon followed :—

“Herodca sprach aua grossem Tratz,
Ey warumb ist der Hinder so schwarz ?
O Liebcr Herr er ist uns wohl bakannt,
Er is ein König in Morenland."

"Herod spake in great dismay, Why is the hindermost black? O, good Sir, he is well known to us; he is a king of the Moors' country ." 16 To the present day, on the Epiphany at S. Peter's, Rome, at the same moment, three pupils of the Propaganda, of whom one must be a negro, say mass at three altars.

In the rules of the Kremnitz Carol brotherhood, the first king is described as "red " the second as "black," and the third as "green!" 17

Epiphany carols are still sung in Germany and Belgium by men or boys dressed in character. In Holstein three peasants dress in white shirts — one has a black face, and carries a fishing-rod with a gilt star suspended to it, and. they sing a carol beginning—

“Wir, Kasper und Melcher, und Baltser genannt,
Wir, sind die heiligen drei König aus Morgenland."

In Saxony the star is composed of oiled paper, and a lamp burns inside it. In the midst of the star a house is painted, and one of the windows is made to open by means of a string, and, like the cuckoo in a clock, a doll of Herod pops out and bobs his head, and then retires again. This exhibition is accompanied by a curious carol, sung in parts, with question and answer, Herod popping out of his window being supposed to be one of the singers, his part being chanted by the bearer of the star in shrill falsetto. In Hesse three men in white, with blackened faces, sing before each house. At Münstermaifeld, in the Eifel district, a very curious performance takes place. The story of the coming and adoration of the Magi is performed dramatically, the dramatis personæ being Herod and his servants, the Jewish Scribes, an angel, two shepherds, and the three kings.

But the most singular performances, those bearing the closest resemblance to the mediæval plays, in which carols were snag in character, is certainly that which prevails in German Bohemia. On the approach of Christmas, boys and girls, dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses, perambulate the towns and villages, singing pastoral, songs, the subject of which is the coming of the Christ-child. On the Sundays in Advent, in the Erz mountains, the so-called Angel-host makes its rounds, consisting of two angels, the infant Christ, Bishop Martin of Tours, S. Nicolas or S. Peter, Joseph, Mary, the host of the inn, two shepherds, and the Knecht Ruprecht, a hobgoblin to scare children. At Oberufer, near Pressberg, the parts are carefully prepared m October, with the schoolmaster as instructor, and all the parts are sung, and studied so that they may be sung-in good time and tune. No person of disorderly character is allowed to take a character; and whilst the performance lasts, i.e. from the first Sunday in Advent to Christmas Eve, no secular music is suffered to be played in the village.

On the first Sunday in Advent the play begins with a procession. First goes the star, carried by the precentor; next the Christmas-tree, hung with ribbands and apples, drawn by the rest of the players, singing sacred songs. On reaching the hall where the miracle play is to be performed, a semi-circle is made, and a carol called the “Star-song" is performed, beginning—

"Ir lieben meine Singer fangts tapfer an
Zü grüessen wolln wirs heben an."

The performers then greet the sun, the moon, the stars, the emperor, and the magistracy, "in Namen alles Würz alein soviel als in der Erden, sein" (in the name of all the herbs that grow in earth). They greet next the mastersinger and his hat, and conclude with a salutation to the constellations of Charles' wain, the Soul-car of German heathen mythology. After this chanted greeting, with its very heathenish ring, follows a carol, "Unzre eingen sejue bott," whilst singing which the hall is entered.

There is neither stage nor scenery. All the "properties" required are a wooden bench and a straw chair. The bench indicates Bethlehem; the chair, Jerusalem. A choir sings between each scene, and an angel chants the prologue and epilogue. Joseph carries a sort of straw umbrella, which represents the roof of the stable; and the star is affixed to an elongator, like those in toy-boxes on which soldiers are pegged. Knecht Ruprecht, or the Devil, carries a cow's horn and a whip, is dressed in black, and has a hideous mask with horns on his head, and a fox's tail attached to his waist. The three shepherds lie asleep on the floor, and the angel in big boots walks over their breasts, singing, to show that he is communicating his message to them in a dream. The host of the inn wears Hungarian costume, as do also the servants of King Herod — a fur cap, a huzzar coat slung over one shoulder, frogged waistcoats, and hessian boots. The Scribes wear paper frilled collars (like those worn in the reign of Charles I), paper mitres, white nightshirts, and top boots. 18 It is impossible not to think of the performance, in Midsummer Night's Dream, of Bottom and his company.

In England, Christmas carols have survived; the dancing has been divorced from them, and the personations have disappeared. Epiphany carols have completely died out, and are only now being revived. But, probably Epiphany was never so popular a festival in England as in Germany. The old miracle plays were often founded on the Apocryphal Gospels; little that is apocryphal has found its way into the carols. There is only one which preserves a trait of myth in it, and that, fortunately, is one of the very highest interest.

I was teaching carols to a party of mill-girls in the West Riding of Yorkshire, some ten years ago, and amongst there, that by Dr. Gauntlett—

"Saint Joseph was a-walking"—

when they burst out with “Nay ! we know one a deal better nor yond;" and, lifting up their voices, they sang, to a curious old strain,—

"Sant Joseph was an old man,
And an old man was he;
He married sweet Mary,
And a Virgin was she.

"And as they were walking
In the garden so green,
She spied some ripe cherries
Hanging over you treen. 19

"Said Mary to Joseph,
With her sweet lips, and smiled,
'Go, pluck me yon ripe cherries off,
For to give to my Child.'

Said Joseph to the cherry-tree,
'Come, bow to my knee,
And I will pluck thy cherries off,
By one, two, and three.' 20

* * * * *

"And as she stooped over Him,
She heard angels sing —
'God bless our sweet Saviour
And our heavenly King.' " 21

Raphael's picture of the Madonna giving cherries to the Child will recur to the mind of the Reader.

Hone gives a complete version of the Cherry-Tree Carol—the first verses much like those I heard. There Joseph refuses to pluck the cherries, being minded to put Mary away privity; but he is miraculously informed that the tree will do homage to the pure Mother-Maid:

“ ‘Go to the tree, Mary,
And it shall bow to thee;
And the highest branch of all
Shall bow down to Mary's knee.

" 'And she shall gather cherries,
By one, by two, by three.'
' Now you may see., Joseph,
Those cherries were for me.'

"O! eat your cherries, Mary ;
O! eat your cherries, now;
O! eat your cherries, Mary,
That grow on the bough."

This scene occurs in one of the Coventry mystery plays (viii), when Joseph and Mary are on their way to Bethlehem, before the birth of Christ.

Mary asks,—

  "A very swete husband! woldc ye telle to me
What tre is yon, standing upoa yon hylle?"
Joseph "For suthe, Mary, it is clepyd a chery tre:
In tyme of yer, ye myght ffede you thereon your fylle."
Mary Turn ageyn, husband, and behold yon tre,
How that it blomyght, now so swetly."
Joseph "Cum on, Mary, that we wern at yon cyte,
Or ellys we may be blamyd, I tell you lyhtly."
Mary Now, my spouse, I pray you to behold
How the cheryes growyn, upon yon tre ;
Ffor to have them, of reyght, ffayn I wold,
An it plesyd you to labor' so mec'h for me." 22

Joseph answers roughly that he will not stay; then the tree bows down of its own accord, and offers its cherries to the hand of Mary.

There is nothing about the cherry-tree in the Apocryphal Gospels. It is the lingering on of a very curious, mysterious tradition, common to the whole race of man, that, the eating of the fruit in Eden was the cause of the descendant of Eve becoming the Mother of Him who was to wipe away that old transgression. In the carol and the mystery play this tradition is strangely altered, but its presence cannot fail to be detected. The following is from the last runa or canto of the "Kalcwala," the great Finnish epic, dating from a remote heathen antiquity. It has gone through alteration at the end; the name of the Virgin is given as Mary, and before the Son the old gods of the Suomi are represented as flying to the north:—

"Mariatta, the beautiful maiden, grew up in the lofty mansion; the log of the threshold was stroked by her soft garments, the doorposts by the waving locks of her head.

"Mariatta, the beautiful maiden, always innocent and always pure, went forth to milk the cows.

"Mariatta, the beautiful maiden, always innocent and always pure, went forth to pasture sheep.

“She led them where the serpent glides under the bushes, and where the lizard darts.

"But no serpent glided, no lizard darted, where Mariatta led her sheep,

"On a hill grew a little berry-tree; and it had a green branch, and on the green branch grew a scarlet berry.

“ ‘O Come, O Virgin!' said the tree, 'come, and gather me.

" ‘O virgin with the tin broach, come before the worm wounds me, and the black snake has coiled round me.’

"Mariatta, the beautiful maiden, comes forward to pluck the berry, but she cannot reach it. Then she takes a stick and strikes it off, and the berry falls on the ground.

''Little berry, scarlet berry, come upon my lap.' And the berry danced upon her lap.

"Little berry, scarlet berry, come up to my lips’ And the berry leaped into her mouth, and she swallowed it."

Mariatta becomes the mother of Ilmori (The Air); and when he is born, the old Wäinämöinen, the national god of the Finns, "sang his last song, and made a boat of brass, a boat with keel of iron; and in this boat he rowed away, far away into the vast spaces, to the lower regions of the sky." 23

The same incident occurs in the “Popol Vuh," the sacred hook of the Quiches, a Central American people, 24 and formed part of the mythology of the ancient Mexicans. The same story has again reappeared from the catacombs of Egypt in the curious romance of the "Two Brothers." 25 Numerous traces of the same idea may be found, and it might be followed out, and form a most interesting monograph; but this is not the place for such a mythological disquisition. In a note I give a few additional references. 26

But let us return to S. Francis, with whom we started. Perhaps there is almost as great a need now-a-days of impressing the great doctrine of the Incarnation on the popular mind as in the days of that great regenerator.

The various sects with which England is overran have more or less Manicheism at their roots. Some of them are lineally traceable to Manicheism in the 8th and 9th centuries. They all more or less sever the spirit from the body, and make religion a matter of spirit only, dissociating from it the body. The sacraments are the outposts of the Incarnation; and with rejection of them, the Incarnation has ceased to be regarded as the keystone of Christianity. Whilst intellectual critics dispute and deny this great verity, its hold on the unintellectual is enfeebled. The great necessity for us at the present day is to enforce this doctrine "by every means in our power. We cannot, perhaps, adopt the præsepio of S. Francis, but we may his carols. What was found efficacious in the 12th century will not be found powerless in the 19th. The carol, in a homely, intelligible manner, brings the doctrine of the Incarnation home to simple minds in a manner which sermons and hymns will never do. It would be well if clergy of the Church of England would adopt the carol, and use it at Christmastide in their churches. They might even attempt the præsepio in a schoolroom, and have carols sung around it by their choir. I have assisted at such a performance, in the house of a Calvinist pastor, in the canton of Vaud, and I have seen it attempted with success in the back slums of the East of London in a Church of England school.

The English people are the slowest to move of any people, it is said, and the English Church is the most averse to change of any sort, after the petrified Oriental Church. When we see how flexible, how ready to adapt herself, how — we may almost say — how unscrupulous the Latin Church shows herself in her eagerness to get hold of the people and popularise her doctrines, it strikes us with something like wonder to come on the English Church and find it a prey to immobility. The difference is that, between the whirling Rhone and a sluggish Ouse.

And yet a marvellous change has taken place in the English Church within this century. The whole of the period from the Restoration to the death of William III saw the Church of England almost stagnant, without any apparent movement in her, and unwilling in any way to adapt herself to new requirements, new situations, new culture. The Civil War had left her a wreck. The churches had been denuded of everything that distinguished them from barns; a whole generation had grown up under Puritanism without an idea of Church Worship, so that, at the Restoration, the clergy who were reinstated, and those who filled the vacancies, had much to contend with, difficulties almost overwhelming. "The Sacraments had almost fallen into disuse. Baptism, if administered at, all, became a private ceremony, Holy Communion had been rarely celebrated, save at the greatest festivals; and the altar, being seldom used for its high and holy purpose, was too often neglected; in some places it was even treated with shocking irreverence, for persons were used to sit upon it, and in one church it is actually recorded that it was used as a card table." 27 The Church was content, having escaped out of the convulsion of the Civil Wars, to stand shivering, and rejoiced at existing at all and with little thought of recovering her lost possessions. Then came the Revolution, and with the accession of William of Orange an attempt, at first direct, and then secret and underground, to Presbyterianise her.

In the Georgian period the Church was at a low ebb, both in morals, piety, and ritual. The Bishops and the Orthodox Clergy could only maintain the status quo; no idea entered their heads, of carrying on a crusade, of striving to conquer those still in the enemy's camp, of recovering those, who had drifted away into error. But we have seen a wave of fresh life pass through the Church of England, and everywhere we see the tokens of fresh vitality in restored churches, frequent services, evangelical preaching, and in a fresh outburst of hymnody such as was unknown before. It is a mark of the Church's confidence in her power and in her Masters presence with her, that she can lay her hands on anything that the world uses, and turn it to the service of God. A person in an uncertain social position is always timid, and looks about for precedent before he or she does anything that may possibly commit. And so a Church which is doubtful of her vocation has a right to be timid; she belongs to the middle-class - the self-made. But such moral cowardice is unworthy of a Church which knows that she is infused with the guiding Spirit of God, and protected by Jesus Christ from falling into grievous error. She can act with audacity, she can do what hobble-de-hoy, demi-monde, self-made Churches dare not; attempt without compromising their dignity.

"What can have been more licentious, heathenish, demoralising, than the old stage? And yet the Church daringly grasped it, purified it, anointed the muse of the drama, and at Oberammergau we can see the result, a survival of the Mediaeval Miracle-Play. The very Christmas Tree which we delight to hang with presents for our children is a pagan symbol— the figure of the World Tree in Norse and Teutonic mythology—yet Christianity boldly assumed, sanctified, and used it.

The early Church was content, with the Psalms of David — but that was not always so to be. The Psalms, beautiful as they are, are not such vehicles for teaching definite doctrine as were needed. The Church had to be taught a sharp and cutting lesson before she ventured outside the psalter. Arius the heresiarch popularised his negation of Catholic doctrine by the composition of hymns which he set to favourite tunes. At once, all Alexandria, all Egypt, rang with his blasphemies, and the children imbibed his heresy through the songs they sang. It is said, that when at the Council of Nicæa one of these hymns was sung before the assembled fathers, Nicolas of Myra struck Arius in the face, so filled with wrath and holy horror was he at what was sung, and for this act was forbidden to wear the mitre; consequently, in Eastern pictures of the Council, he alone of the bishops is represented bareheaded. Anus did incalculable evil to the Church, but he did her some good: he forced her to use hymns to counteract his heretical compositions.

When at Milan, the Empress Justina in 384 demanded the Portian basilica for Arian worship, and an Arian Bishop was appointed to usurp his throne, S. Ambrose took up his abode in his church, which was filled with a zealous congregation, and defied the power of the Empress and her son. To enkindle enthusiasm, and strengthen the people in the Divine truth, he composed hymns, and set them to music, and bade the congregation sing them. That, may be said to have been the nativity of hymnody in the Western Church.

At the Reformation the service was given in English, but the hymns of the Breviary were not translated; the hands of the Reformers lacked, they believed, the cunning. The Latin hymns, untranslated, were not indeed suitable for congregational singing, and no doubt the Reformers hail little conception of the power of song over the human heart to convey doctrine and stir up devotion. Yet they might, had they had time to consider, have remembered the effect of the Christmas Carol. When the carol was first used we hardly know, hut the earliest printed collection we have is that by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521. Tusser speaks of them as "jolly carols," and an early poem says of "the leuid people," or common people, that they "caroles singen everi Criste messe tyde,” Probably, Christmas has held its place as a chief festival in the affections of the people from the use of carols at it; and Easter fell into disregard because no carols sung then emphasised the doctrine and cheered the feast. In the West of England, till of late, the carols took the place of the metrical psalms in all the churches, especially at afternoon service, the whole congregation joining; and among the old MS music in the choir chests — if it has not been burnt — will often be found rudely written collections of Christmas Carols.

We have now dethroned the Metrical Psalms, but we have hardly gone far enough in the direction of hymnody. We want some hearty, festival singing of carols at each of the great feasts. What are Dissenters doing now to get congregations? They have their Services of Song, more or less secular, with a dash of religions cant about them like a smack of garlic in a dish. The people are becoming more musical and more to delight in music. They seem to have a special delight in sacred music. By all means let us take the opportunity and give them a performance of carols at the festivals. Whilst the Dissenters are giving " Little Topsy," " Poor Joe," and " Wandering Gyp," as Services of Song — flummery and mawkishness — let the Church boldly produce carols and give a Service of Song at each festival, made up of carols, teaching doctrine, and giving emphasis to the festival.

S. Aldhehm, of Malmesbury, when he desired to bring the gospel home to the people, dressed himself as a minstrel and went to four cross roads and sang there popular ballads, and on them based his discourse. We cannot go far wrong in utilising the carol in our churches. Why is it to be sung outside? By all means bring the people in, and let them hear it and join in it with heart and voice.

The clergy make as great a mistake in confining the hymnody in church to A. and M. [Hymns, Ancient and Modern] or the S.P.C.K. [Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge] hymnal, as they do when they exclude extemporary addresses. We must not be too stiff. The Church must unbend; her services must be made more popular — never with loss of reverence, but reverence is not lost when simplicity takes the place of what is stilted and unintelligible. A. and M. and other hymnals have done much for us, but we must not stand at that point. We must try to bring the Festivals still more home to our people. We should not be content with Christmas Carols, we should use Carols for all the seasons. The country people have no quarrel with the food the Church offers them, but they do not like the cooking. The meat is excellent, but it is too leathery in the way it is served. The bane of the Church of England has been her stiffness. She is infinitely the most formal of Churches; and it is this stiffness, this formality, which the poor dislike. They are not at ease in her courts, no more than they would be at a dinner party at the squire's.

Surely we cannot go wrong in acting like the great Head of the Church, Who came down to the people and taught them by the most familiar and simple parables and likenesses. And one of the must attractive modes of coming down to them now is by the use of Carols, not out of church in wind and rain and frost and snow, but within the church, in the midst, of light and warmth and colour.


Notes from Sabine Baring-Gould:

1. Their Greek origin is distinctly asserted: "Illi vero qui combusti sunt (those at, Cologne) dixerunt nobis in defensions sua, hauc haeresin usque ad haec tempora occulatatam fuisse a temporibus martyrum in Graecia.” Muratori Antiq., Ital. v. 83. Return

2. "All these he distinguished by the common name of Bulgares, whether they were Paternians, Iovinians, or Albigenses.” Matt. Paris, sub. ann. 1238. Return

3. The Franciscan Order suffered in the long run from the influx of half-converted Manichees, who formed in its ranks a great schism, constituting the body of the Fraticeilli – heretics who had to be put down by very summary means. Return

4. Mrs. Oliphant, "S. Francis of Assisi," Macmillan, p. 223-4. Return

5. “Les Poetes Franciscains.'' Return

6. In Yorkshire (West Riding) the children still carry about Christmas boxes, lined with coloured paper in which are figures of the B. Virgin and Child; they sing carols with them, and call them “Milly boxes" (My Lady's box), but have lost all idea of their significance. Return

7. Larue: "Essais historiqaes sur les bardes et jongleurs." Caen, 1834. I., p. 166. Return

8. Parfait; "Histoire du Theatre francois." Paris, 1735. Return

9. "Marguerites de la Marguerite des princesses, tres-illustre reine de Navarre." Lyons, 1547. Return

10. "Nullus in festivitate S. Joannis … solstitin, aut vallationes, vel saltationes aut, Caraulas aut cantica diabolica exerceat." Vit. S. Elig., lib. ii, c. 15. Return

11. “Non licet in Ecclesia choros saeculariuin .... exercere." Return

12. See a full account of it in Krier: "Die Springprocession ia Echternach, Luxemb., 1871." For further information on Religious Dances, see an article by the author of this Introduction, in "The Sacristy," I., p. 63, seq. Return

13 "Collectanea et Gloses," Beda, Op, iii., 481—Colon. 1688—wrongly attributed to Bede. Return

14 "Jasper crat et ethiops niger, de quo nulli dubium."—John of Hildesheim, p. 13. Return

15. Daniel, Hymn v, 180. Return

16. Docen, Miscel., i., 279. Return

17. "Schroer in Weim. Jahrsbûcher," iii., 408. For much information on representations of the Epiphany, see an article in the "Sacristy," vol. Iii., p, 1-18. Return

18. Engravings of the characters will be found in F. von Reinsberg-Duringsfeld: "Das Festliche Jahr." — Leipzig, 1863, p. 371-7. Return

19. Observe the plural in n. Return

20. Some verses lost. Return

21. Other versions are given, with other tunes, by Sedding, Sandys, &c. Return

22. [William] Hone: "Ancient Mysteries " (1823), p. 67-8. Return

23. "Le Kalewala," p. de Leozan le Due (1845), ii, 32nd Runa. Return

24. "Popol Vuh," par M. Brasseur Bourbourg (1861), p. 89-95. Return

25. Select Papyri of the British Museum, ii. The best translation is that of M. Maspero, in "Revue des cours littéraires," 1871. Return

26. Ovid, “Fasti,” v., 231' seq.; "Arabian Tales," Sequel, by Dom Chares and M. Cazotte (London. 1798), vol. viii., p. 52; Baltaz. Bonifacio, Hist. Ludiera, Brussels (1656), i., p. 20. Return

27. Lucock: The Bishops in the Tower (1886), p. 110. Return

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