The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Miraculous Birth, and the Midwives

Mystery VIII.

"In Cotton MS Pagent XV"

Source: William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described (1823), pp. 67-71.

See: The Cherry Tree Carol - Notes
Middle English Dictionary (MED)

The Play commences by Joseph acquainting Mary, that Octavian having demand tribute to be 'cryed in every bourgh & cety be name,' he must 'sekyrnedys' in 'Bedleem' by labour.1. Mary says she will go with him, where she may perhaps find some of her kin.

Joseph.--My spowse ye be with childe; I fer yow to kary;
.....For, me semyth, it wer' werkys wylde:
But yow to plese, ryght fayn wold I;
...Yitt women ben ethe to greve, whan thei be with childe.
Now latt us forth went, as fast as we may,
...& al myghty God spede us, in our jurnay.

Mary, while they are travelling, espies a tree, and inquires of Joseph,

A my swete husbond! wolde ye telle to me,
.....What tre is yon, standing vpon yon hylle?

Joseph.--For suthe Mary it is clepyd a chery tre;
...In tyme of yer, ye myght ffede yow theron yowr fylle.

Maria.--Turn a geyn, husbond, & be holde you 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 telle yow lythly.

Maria.--Now my spowse, I pray yow to be hold
.....How the cheryes growyn vpon yon tre;
ffor tohave them, of ryght, ffayn I wold,
....& it pleayd yow to labor' so mec'h for me.

Joseph.--Yo' desyr to ffulfylle I schall assay sekyrly;--
.....Ow! to plucke yow of these cheries, it is a werk wylde!
ffor the tre is so hy', it wol now be lyghtly
.....Y' for lete hy' pluk yow cheryes, be gatt yow with childe.
Maria.--Now, good lord, I pray the, graunt me this bonn, hause of these cheries, & it be yo' wylle;
now, I thank it god, yis tre bowyth to me down,
.....I may now gader'y a nowe, & etyn my ffylle.

Joseph perceives, by the bowing down of the tree, that in speaking thus reproachfully to the Virgin, he has offended'god i'trinyte' and he humbles himself. Meeting 'Emes,' a citizen of Bethlehem, they are informed the city is full, on account of the persons resorting to pay tribute. Mary says,

.....Yondyr is an hous of haras, that stant be the way,
Amonge the bestys, heryd may ye be.

* * * * *

Maria.--In this por' logge my chawmer I take,
.....her for to A byde the blyssyd byrth
of hym, that all this werd dude make:-- twyn my' sydys I fele he styrth.

Joseph accordingly brings her in. Mary requires him to depart, and he does so, telling her he will 'seke su' mydwyvys.' He meets two, whose help he desires for Mary, which they promise.

Salomee.--My name is Slomee, all men me knowe,
.....ffor a mydwyff of wurthy fame;
Whan women travayl grace doth growe,
.....There as I come I had nevyr shame.
Zelomye.--And I am Zelomye, men knowe my name,
.....We tweyn, with the, wyl go to gedyr,
& help thy wyff, fro hurt & grame,
.....Com forth, Joseph, go we streyth thedyr,

The Midwives, being alarmed at a great light within, decline entering. Joseph returns; inquires of Mary how she fares and tell her the midwives are without, '& dar not ccome in for lyght that they se.'2

[hic Maria subridendo dicat maria.]

Maria.--The myght of the godhede, in his Mageste,
.....wyl not be hyd now, at this whyle;
The chylde that is born wyl p'ue his modyr fre,
......A very clene mayde, & th'r for I smyle.

Joseph.-- Why do ye lawghe, wyff, ye be to blame;
.....I pray yow, spowse, do no mor so;
In happ, the mydwyuys wyl take it to grame,
.....&, at yo' nede, helpe wele non do;
Iff ye haue nede of mydwyuys, lo,
.....P'auentur, thei wyl gon hens,
Yr for be sad, & ye may so,
.....And wynnyth all the mydwyuis good diligens.

Marie.--Husband, I p'y yow, dysplese yow nowth,
.....You that I lawghe & greg joye haue;
Her' is the chylde, this werde hath wrought,
.....born now of me, that all thynge schal saue.

Joseph.--I aske yow grace, for I dyde raue.
.....O gracyous childe! I aske mercy;
As thou art lord, & I but knaue,
.....ffor geue me now, my gret foly.
Alas, mydwyuis! what haue I seyd?
.....I pray yow come to us mor' ner',
ffor her' I fynde my wyff a mayd,
.....&, in her arme, a chylde hath her'.
bothe mayde & modyr sch' is, in ffer
.....That gode wole haue, may nevyr mor' fayle,
Modyr on erth was nevyr non cler,
.....With owth sche had, in byrth, travayle.

Zelomy.--In byrth, travayle must sche nedys haue,
.....Or ellys no chylde of her' is born.

Joseph.--I pray yow, dame, & ye vow'ch sa'ue, se the chylde, my wiff beforn.

Salome.--Grete god be in this place !
.....swete systyr, how far ye ?

Maria.--I thank the fadyr, of his hyg grace,
.....His owyn son, & my chylde, her' ye may see.

Zelomy.--All heyl Mary ! & ryght good morn!
.....Who was mydwyfe of this ffayr chylde ?

Maria.--he, that no thynge wyl leaue for lorn,
.....Cent me this babe, & I mayd mylde.

Zelomy.--With honde lete me now towch and fele.
.....Yf ye haue nede of medycyn,
I xal you comforte, & help ryght wele,
.....As other women, yf ye haue pyn.

Maria.--Of this fayr byrth, that her is myu,
.....Peyne ner grevynge fele I ryght non ;
I am clene mayde, & pure virgyn,
.....Tast with yo hand, yo' self a lon.

[palpat Zelomye beatam v'ginem dicens]

ZELOMY is satisfied that 'a fayre chylde of a maydon is born,' and 'his modyr nott hurte of virgynite.'

Salome.--It is not trewe, it may nevyr be,
.....That bothe be clene I can not be leve.
A mayd's mylke nev, man dyde se.
.....Ne woman ber' chylde, with owte grett greve.

[hic tangit Salomee Marie, & cu' arescerit man' ei' lulando &y quasi flendo dicit.]

SALOMEE exclaims, that for her unbelief her hand is 'ded, & drye, as claye,' and 'styff, as a stykke.'3 She prays to God to be relieved, reminding him of her alms and other good deeds.4 This draws down an angel, who desires her to worship the child, and to touch his clothes.5 She goes to Mary, and asks forgiveness, who repeats the angel's request,

[hic Salomee tangit fimbriam Christi dicens,]

and her hand is immediately restored.6


[Passages paralleled; from the Apoc. N. Test.]

1. Protevan. xii. -1. And it came to pass, that there went forth a decree from the Emperor Augustus, that all the Jews should be taxed, who were of Bethlehem, in Judea. Return.

2: Protevan. xiv.-9. And the midwife went along with him, and stood in the cave.
10. Then a bright cloud overshadowed the cave, and the midwife said, This day my soul is magnified, for mine eyes have seen surprising things, and salvation is brought forth to Israel.
11. But on a sudden the cloud became a great light in the cave, so that their eyes could not bear it.
12. But the light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and sucked the breast of his mother Mary.
13. Then the midwife cried out, and said, How glorious a day is this, wherein mine eyes have seen this extraordinary sight!
14. And the midwife went out from the cave, and Salome met her. Return.

3. PROTEVAN. xiv 18, Then Salome went in, and the midwife said, Mary, shew thyself, for a great controversy is risen concerning thee.
19.And Salome received satisfaction.
20. But her hand was withered, and she groaned bitterly,
21. And said, Wo to me, because of mine iniquity; for I have tempted the living God, and my hand is ready to drop off. Return.

4. Then Salome made her supplication to the Lord, and said, O God of my fathers, remember me, for I am of the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.
23. Make me not a reproach among the children of Israel, but restore me sound to my parents.
24. For thou well knowest, O Lord, that I have performed many offices of charity in thy name, and have received my reward from thee. Return.

5. PROTEVAN. xiv. 25. Upon this an angel of the Lord stood by Salome, and said, The Lord God hath heard thy prayer, reach forth thy hand to the child, and carry him, and by that means thou shalt be restored. Return.

6. 28 And straightway Salome was cured. Return.

Editor's Note.

Hone's source is described elsewhere as MS. Cotton Vespas. D. viii (1468), published as Ludus CoventriŠ (Halliwell's edition of 1841, as an example). See: James Orchard Halliwell, ed., Ludus CoventriŠ. A Collection of Mysteries, Formerly Represented at Coventry on the Feast of Corpus Christi. (London: Printed for the Shakespeare Society, 1841), Mystery XV, "The Birth of Christ," pp. 145-155.

He observed that "The Coventry Mysteries are contained in a quarto volume, the principal part of which was written in the year 1468, now preserved in the Cottonian collection of manuscripts, under the press-mark Vespas. D. viii."

Mystery XV, "The Birth of Christ," begins:

Joseph. Lord, what travayl to man is wrought!
    Rest in this werd behovyth hym non;
Octavyan oure emperor sadly hath besought
    Oure trybutehym to bere, ffolk must forth ichon,
It is cryed in every bourgh and cety be name;
    I that am a pore tymbre wryth, born of the blood of Davyd,
The emperores comawndement I must holde with,
    And ellys I were to blame.

Now, my wyff Mary, what sey ȝe to this?
    For sekyr, nedys I must fforth wende
Onto the cyte of Bedleem, ffer hens i-wys;--
    Thus to labore I must my body bende.

Maria. Myn hosbond and my spowse, with ȝow wyl I wende,
    A syght of that cyte ffayn wolde I se;
If I myght of myn alye ony ther ffynde,
    It wold be grett joye onto me.

Thankfully, Mr. Halliwell appends a Glossary, which commences on p. 419. On page 433. for example, we find that the word "wende" means "go."

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