The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

What Tidings Bringest Thou Messenger?

For Christmas

Words and melody from the Selden MS. (Selden MS. B.26 f.15v), Bodleian Library. Mode XIII.

Source: Richard Runciman Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #175, pp. 8-9.

Introduction:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christès birth this yerès day?

1. A babe is born of high nature;
Is Prince of Peace and ever shall be.
Of heaven and earth He hath the cure;
His Lordship is eternity.
Such wonder tidings ye may hear.

Chorus:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christès birth this yerès day?
That man is made now Godès fere,
When sin had made but fiendès prey.

2. A seemly sight it is to see
The berd that hath this Babe y-born,
Conceived a Lord of high degree,
And maid still, as she was beforn;
Such wonder tidings ye may hear.

Chorus:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christès birth this yerès day?
That maid and mother is one y-fere,
And always lady of high array.

3. The maid began to greet her Child,
And said 'Hail Son! Hail Father dear!'
This greeting was in quaint mannèr;
Such wonder tidings ye may hear.

Chorus:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christès birth this yerès day?
Her greeting was in such mannèr,
It turnèd mannès pain to play.

4. A wonder thing is now befall;
That Lord that formed star and sun,
Heaven and earth and angels all,
Now is mankindè is begun;
Such wonder tidings ye may hear.

Chorus:
What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christès birth this yerès day?
A Child that is not of one year,
Ever hath been and shall be aye.

Notes Concerning Lyrics from Rev. Terry:

Yerès = year's.

Cure = care, change.

Goddès ferre = God's companion.

Berd = girl, maiden.

Y-born = borne.

Beforn = before.

Y-fere = in fere, i.e., together.

Sheet Music from Richard Runciman Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #175, pp. 8-9.

175a-What_Tidings.jpg (111978 bytes) 175b-What_Tidings.jpg (92477 bytes)

Note Concerning Sheet Music from Rev. Terry:

This note [the second note in the fourth paragraph, G natural quarter note over “Of”) is clearly given as F in the MS., against E in the descant. The same clash occurs with the repetition of the phrase (bar 13 from the end). In ordinary circumstances I should have concluded that it was the descant which needed correction and allowed the F of the Canto fermo to stand, since (to my mind) that gives a balanced phrase typical of the period. But the Cambridge MS. (see page 52) gives G. Against that weight of evidence I could not urge a personal opinion and have therefore altered the Bodleian F to G.

Sheet Music from Sir Richard Runciman Terry, A Medieval Carol Book: The Melodies Chiefly from MMS. in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1932), Carol #4, pp. 8-9.

AMCB21.jpg (702544 bytes) AMCB22.jpg (566269 bytes)

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles L. Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New.
Boston: Parish Choir, 1916, Carol 677

J. A. Fuller Maitland, English Carols of the Fifteenth Century. London: The Leadenhall Press, E.C., ca. 1891, X.

Carol in Original Form From a 15th Century Manuscript

Carol in Modern Form

Notes from Editor:

The Selden Manuscript was the source for A Medieval Carol Book by Rev. Terry. Scans of the manuscript pages are on-line at the Bodleian Library; see Selden MS B26 (opens in a new window at an exterior site).

Other versions on this web site:

Authorship of this poem is attributed to John Audelay, originally from a MS. of the 15th Century (MS. Douce 302) held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

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