The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents

The feast day for the Holy Innocents is December 28. This picture is "The Slaughter of the Children of Bethlehem" by Gustave Doré. These children are mentioned in Matthew 2:16-18:

"Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

For more information, see this article about the Holy Innocents from Catholic Encyclopedia (1907).

Carols and hymns on this site which specifically honor the Innocents include:

A Hymn for Martyrs Sweetly Sing (Hymnum canentes martyrum), The Venerable Bede, 673-735, Translated by Joan Mason Neale, 1818-1866

All Hail Ye Infant Martyr Flowers (John Mason Neale)

All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers (Athelstan Riley)

As Wolves Attack Their Helpless Prey (John Chandler, a translation of Molles In Agnos Ceu Lupus)

Audit tyránnus ánxius - For Laudes matutinĉ on The Feast of the Holy Innocents (SS. Innocentium, Martyrum)

The Angel Said to Joseph Mild (Luke Waddinge)

Coventry Carol - Version 1

Coventry Carol - Version 2

Lulle Lullay

Flowers Of Martyrdom, All Hail! (Edward Caswall)

Glory, To Thee, O Lord

Hail Ye Flowers of Martyrs (The Kilmore Carols)

Hail, Flowrets of Christ's Martyr-Crown (William J. Copeland)

Hail, Flowerets of the Martyr-train (Henry Nutcombe Oxenham)

Hail, Infant Martyrs, New-born Victims, Hail! (John Chandler, a translation of Salvete, Flores Martyrum)

Herod That Was Both Wild and Wode

Herode Yt Was Both Wylde And Wode (In Middle English; "Junicode" font required)

The Holy Innocents - Laurence Housman

The Holy Innocents To-day (George R. Woodward)

The Hymn For Conquering Martyrs Raise

Hymnum canéntes mártyrum - For the Officium lectionis on The Feast of the Holy Innocents (SS. Innocentium, Martyrum)

Jesus Christ Of Nazareth

Let Children, Lord, Thy Presence Seek

Let Faithful Quires The Carol Raise

Little Flowers of Martyrdom (I. Williams)

Mark This Song, For It Is True

Marke This Songe For It Is Trewe - Version 1

Marke this songe for it is trewe - Version 2

On This Day Earth Shall Ring - Version 1

On This Day Earth Shall Ring - Version 2

Personent hodie

Rachel, Weeping For Her Children - W. Chatterton Dix

Sweet Flowerets of the Martyr Band - Version 1 (Sir Henry W. Baker)

Sweet Flow'rets Of The Martyr Band - Version 2 (Sir Henry W. Baker, alt.)

That Rage Whereof The Psalm Doth Say

Thee, Christ, We Laud And Magnify

Thy Praise The Holy Infants Showed

Upon the Twenty-fifth of December (Roxburghe Ballads, ca. 1700)

Welcome Yule (from Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New, 1920)

Welcome Yule - Rickert

When God Was Born Of Mary Free

When Herod In Jerusalem - Version 1 (Davies Gilbert, 1823)

When Herod In Jerusalem - Version 2 (William Sandys, 1833)

When It Reach'd The Tyrant's Ear

The Winter Sun Was Setting

With Al The Reverens That We May

With Boding Fears The Tyrant Hears

With Terror Doth The Tyrant Hear

Weep, Weep, For Earth's Bereaved Ones

Ye Flowers of Martyrdom, All Hail (R. Martin Pope, a translation of Salvete, Flores Martyrum, from Hymn For The Epiphany, 1905)

See also:

Christmastide Poems of Christina Rossetti

Christmas Poetry of Catherine Winkworth

Finally, although most refer only to the Magi, some of the songs relating to Herod also relate to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, including

All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers (A. Riley)

An Infant Lay Within A Shed

Augustus Caesar Having Brought

Be Still, My Blessed Babe

Be Still, My Blessed Babe - Husk

Carnal and the Crane

The Black Decree

The First Day Of Yule

From Church To Church

In The Reign Of Great Caesar

Mary Had A Baby

There Joseph On His Sleeping Lay

The Three Kings - Version 3

Three Kings' Song

Unto Us Is Born A Son - Version 1

Unto Us Is Born A Son - Version 2

When Herod In Jerusalem

Who Are These Who Ride By Starlight

Two hymns for the Holy Innocents come from the 12th hymn of the Cathemerinon of Prudentius (348-413), Quicumque Christum quceritis. They are:

1. Audit tyrannus anxius (Lines 93-100; 133-136).

2. Salvete, Flores Martyrum (Lines 125-132).

There are numerous translations of each of these Latin poems.

Carl P. E. Springer writes that a hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents has also been derived from the poem, Paean Alphabeticus de Christo. The De Innocentibus rubric begins with the 10th verse:

Katerva matrum personat
Collisa deflens pignora,
Quorum tyrannus milia
Christo sacravit victimam.

The remainder of the rubric is the following stanzas.

9. Ibant magi, qua venerant,
Stellam sequentes previam,
Lumen requirunt lumine,
Deum fatentur munere.

11. Lavacra puri gurgitis
Cekstis agnus attigit ,
Peccata qui mundi tulit
Nos abluendo sustulit.

13. Novum genus potentie!
Aque rubescunt hydrie,
Vinumque iussa fundere
Mutavit unda originem.

See: Carl P. E. Springer, The Manuscripts of Sedulius - A Provisional Handlist (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995), p. 14, n. 34 (Carl P. E. Springer Transactions of the American Philosophical Society  New Ser., Vol. 85, No. 5 (1995), pp. i-xxii+1-244). See also Springer, "Sedulius' A Solis Ortus Cardine: The Hymn and Its Tradition, " Ephemerides Liturgicae 101 (1987), 69-75.

Note that the Bach Cantatas website, citing Grove's Music, states: "... the following four (beginning ‘Katerva matrum personat’, as above) for the Feast of the Holy Innocents." This would be verses 10-13, above, different from Springer's enumeration. See Sedulius.

As I do not read Latin, I am unable to provide a translation, nor have I located a translation on the World Wide Web.

A poem to the Holy Innocents can be found in Christmas-tide Poetry of John Keble.

Finally, the town of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, celebrates an unusual festival in conjunction with this feast day. "The Masks of Hatillo" is a 184 year old tradition in which inhabitants dress themselves in color as part of the celebration of the Masks Festival.

According to a published report in the newspaper El Vocero,

This tradition began in the town of Hatillo with the arrival of immigrants from the Canary Islands, where, on this date, it is customary to commemorate the massacre of the Holy Innocents, the children King Herod ordered executed so as to eliminate the newborn Child Jesus. As part of the festivity, it was customary to hold cavalcades where the riders, who portrayed the Roman soldiers at whose hands the Innocents died, dressed in colorful costumes and covered their faces with masks.

For more information, see the full post at Christmas International:

See, generally, December 28 - The Holy Innocents (Hone).

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