The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christus Natus Est – The Broadside

Source: William Hone (1780-1842), Chapter 3, “Christmas Carols,” Ancient Mysteries Described (1823), pp. 102-103.

There is a sheet of carols, headed thus: 'Christus Natus Est: Christ is born ;' with a wood-cut, 10 inches high, by 8 ½ inches wide, representing the stable at Bethlehem; Christ in the crib, watched by the Virgin and Joseph; shepherds kneeling; angels attending; a man playing on the bagpipes; a woman, with a basket of fruit on her head; a sheep bleating, and an ox lowing on the ground; a raven croaking, and a crow cawing on the hay-rack; a cock crowing above them, and angels singing in the sky. The animals have labels from their mouths, bearing Latin inscriptions. The complete text, from the Text Creation Partnership, is below.

Down the side of the wood-cut is the following account and explanation: ‘A religious man inventing the conceits of both birds and beasts, drawn in the picture of our Saviour’s birth, doth thus express them :

The cock croweth, Christus natus est; Christ is born.

The raven asked, Quando? When?

The cow replied. Huc nocte, This night.

The ox cryeth out, Ubi? Ubi? Where? Where?

The sheep bleated out, Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

Voice from heaven sounded, Gloria in Excelsis, Glory be on high.’

Hone's Footnote:

London, Printed and Sold by . Bradford, in Little Britain, the Corner House over against the Pump, 1701. Price One Penny.

Editor's Note:

The original was printed by John Stafford, London, 1631. It is said to be held in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London. See notes under Saint Stephen Was A Clerk (also known as "Saint Stephen and King Herod").

The legend that animals are given the gift of human speech on Christmas Eve was wide-spread in older times. There is a discussion of this legend in Chapter XIII of A Righte Merrie Christmasse: The Story of Christ-Tide, by John Ashton.

Also occurs in Hone's, The Every Day Book, Vol. 1 of 2. (London: William Tegg, 1825), December 24 - Christmas Eve, p. 800-801. In that description of the Broadside, Mr. Hone adds: "This carol is in the possession of Mr. Upcott."

The poem Christ Is Born by John Alexander Chapman is based on this legend, and Shakespeare alludes to this legend in Act 1, scene 1, of "Hamlet":

Some says, that ever 'gainst that Season comes;
Wherein our Saviours Birth is celebrated,
The Bird of Dawning singeth all night long:
And then (they say) no Spirit can walk abroud,
The nights are wholesome, then no Planets strike,
No Fairy takes, nor Witch hath power to Charme:
So hallow'd, and so gracious is the time.

See also

In Hone's book, on pp. 805-806 of December 24 - Christmas Eve, there is a discussion by Hone of the ancient belief that animals fell to their knees at midnight on Christmas Eve. Scroll down to "THE OX AND THE ASS."

The Text of the Broadside.

Source: Text Creation Partnership.

CHRIST is Borne.

Angels clap Hands; Let men forbeare to Mourne:
Their sauing-Health is come; For CHRIST is Borne.

The History of Christ his Life and Death.

CHrist was borne in Bethe­lem a little Village in Iury, not farre from Ierusalem: Ma­ry (a Virgin) was his Mother, and Ioseph (a Carpenter) his re­puted Father. He liued in the raigne of Augustus Caesar, Em­peror of Rome, and was put to death in the time of Tiberius. At twelue yeares of age hée dis­puted in the Temple, and put downe the Doctors. He was the best Master that euer was, for hée gaue (and to this day still giues) Heauen to his followers, yet had but bad Seruants, for Iudas betrayed him, Peter deni­ed him, all forsooke him. Hée was the best Sea▪man that euer was, for he walked vpon the Waters, and at his bidding the Windes lay still. No man euer did such Cures as he did, for hée raised the dead to life, gaue sight to the Blind, made the Lame to walke, and cast out Diuels. No man euer made such Feasts as hée, his last Supper being one, where he and his twelue Disci­ples sate together▪ At which time, rising from Table, he tyed a Towell about his middle, and then washing all their féet, hée dryed them with that Towell: Another Feast was, which hée fed fiue thousands with fiue Barly Loaues and two Fishes: At another time (béeing at a wedding) he turned Water in­to Wine.

His whole life was spent in labor, in Preaching, in fasting, praying, healing sicke People, and doing myracles, yet for all this the Iewes hated him▪ Herod dispised him, Annas, Caiphas, Pilate, the Scribes & Pharisies, with all the Doctors of the Law sate in consultation together, how to intrap him, and put him to death, and for that cause hired many false witnesses, who came in against him, but they agréed not in their testimonies: yet he was betrayed by his owne Ser­uant Iudas, who for thirty Ro­man Penes sold his Master, came to him, cryed, All hayle, and with a kisse deliuered him into the hands of such, as with Bils and Staues in the night came to apprehend him as a Thiefe; Hée was thus haled to Prison. Then the custome of the Iewes, being (at euery Ea­ster) to haue a Prisoner deliuered to them to be put to death; and Pilate asked the people if they would haue one Barrabas (a Malefactor) or Christ▪ they cryed out to haue Christ cru­cified, and Barrabas to be made frée. Hereupon, Christ with strong Cords was tyed to a Pillar, and with Cords & Whips scourged. At his Arraignment, he was spet vpon, and strucke ouer the face: At his comming from the Hall of Iudgment, he was whooped at, reuiled, mocked, and miserably abused. That day then which we call good Friday, béeing set downe for his day of Death, he was forced on his sore shoulders to carry his owne heauy Crosse, on which he was to suffer, & to carry it through Ierusalem, to Mount Caluarie, his place of Execution: But before this, in the open Hall, the Iewes set a Crowne of sharpe pricking Thornes vpon his head, strucke him with a Réed, and Iéered at him: To that Crosse hée was nayl'd with his Thorny Crowne on; his Hands and Féet bo­red through, hung betwéene two common Théeues: His side pierced with a Speare; Vineger and Gall giuen him to drink as he hung: Close to the Crosse stood his mother, her Sister, and Mary Magdalen: Christ said to his Mother, Woman be­hold thy Sonne. In the end giuing vp the Ghost, the Body was taken downe; He was buried, yet rose againe, and was a­mongst his Disciples vntill be went vp into Heauen.

O See! Mans Sauiour is in Bethlem borne,
His lodging base, he himselfe held in scorne,
The Cribbe at which the Oxe and Asse were fedde,
Mary (Christs Mother) makes her young Sonnes bed;
Yet see how Shepherds fall downe flat before him,
And how the Wise-men doe with guifts adore him,
Harke, what a heauenly Qurre of Angells sing
Sweet Carrols, at the birth of this new King;
O happy man! when thus, (thy Soule to saue,)
Christ comes from Heauen, and makes himselfe a Slaue.
SEe else that Pillar, where being naked bound,
Thy Christ had his flesh tore with many a wound▪
When a Cocke crowes, let it this griefe afford,
To thinke how Peter (thrice) denyed his Lord;
See Iudas Lanthorne, and see Iudas Pence,
See the Dice throwne, to vncloath Innocence;
See Pincers, Nailes, and Hammers, how they meere,
To naile toth' Crosse, Christs blessed Hands and Feet:
O Wretched Man! where Christ for thee thus dyed,
Let him not still by thee be Crucified.

Christus Natus est


Hac Nocte



[...] in excelsis.

H [...]

And for Debts which Men should Pay,
Downe his Life at Stake did lay. ✚
Here's a Wonder neuer knowne,
A King a Manger makes his Throne.

The Explanation of this Picture.

A Religious Man inuenting the Conceits both for the Birdes and Beasts drawne in this picture of our Saui­ours Birth, doth thus expresse them.

viz. The Cocke croweth, Christus Natus est. Christ is borne.

The Rauen asked, Quando? When?

The Crow replyed, Hac Nocte. This Night.

The Oxe cryed out, Vbi? Vbi? Where? Where?

The Sheepe bleated out, Bethlem▪ Bethelem.

A voyce from Heauen sounded, Gloria in Excelsis. Glory be on high.

Whilst Armies of Angels sung, Halleluiah. Saluation, and Glory, and Ho­nor, and power bée to the Lord our God. Apoc. 19. 1.

An Epitaph vpon Christ, who was Buried in a new Tombe, cut out of a Rocke, in which no Man but he was euer inclosed.

VVIthin this Rocke the Rocke himselfe is layd,
Who both the Tombe, and the Tomb-maker made,
A Man he was, was no such man beside,
None liu'd so iust, none so vniustly dyed:
He was in debt for nothing, yet did pay
The debts of all the World at a set day.
Neuer of Woman could so much be said,
When he was borne his Mother was a Mayd.
He many wonders wrought▪ and this a chiefe,
A very bad Man, made he a Good Theife.
It happened well, he so by Iewes was Cross'd,
For all the Soules i'th World had els bin lost.
Thirty-three yeares be liu'd: Had not he beene,
No Christian vpon Earth had ere bin seene.
He dyed a King, yet was a Begger borne,
And wore (which no Kings doe) a Crowne of Thorne.
First went he to his Graue, from thence, to Hell,
Then vp to Heauen▪ And there this King doth dwell.

London, Printed for IOHN STAFFORD, 1631.

Source. CHRISTVS NATVS EST-Christ Is Born, University of Oxford Text Archive & Text Creation Partnership.

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