Monday, December 29, 2008

Coventry Carol (In Honor of the Holy Innocents, the First Martyrs for Christ)

"The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents," by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 14th century, taken from Even before they learn to speak, they proclaim Christ

The feast of the Holy Innocents, who died as martyrs for Christ at the hand of wicked King Herod's men [see Matthew 2: 16-18], fell on a Sunday this year, so they weren't commemorated during Mass this year. However, the memory of these blessed souls in Heaven came to mind as I listened to a favorite Christmas carol of mine, "Coventry Carol."

An entry on the BBC's website about the carol related the following:

The carol probably dates from the 15th Century, though the earliest known written version of the words dates from 1534 and was taken down by Robert Croo. The oldest written version of the tune we sing the carol to today was written in 1591....The song was originally written for the Pageant of the Guild of the Shearmen and Tailors for the Coventry Mystery Plays, and was sung by the mothers of the infants in the play to hush the babies' crying, in the hope they would not be heard by Herod's soldiers. Alas their efforts are in vain and the soldiers burst in and slay the babes.
Since "Coventry Carol" is about Herod's massacre of these infants, the BBC entry went on to describe it as " cheerful as our other carols, but echoing from the doors of church, into the moonlit air of a Christmas Eve, it has a beauty and resonance that can send a shiver down your spine."

I couldn't better describe it myself. But do see for yourself why these words were written about this carol. Play the below YouTube video (an audio presentation, with the sheet music and words for the carol; the peformers are the Cambridge Singers, from their wonderful Christmas album, Christmas with the Cambridge Singers, which unfortunately, appears to be out of print):

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
thy little tiny child,
by, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor child for thee!
And every mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.


Blogger Pablo said...


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9:38 PM  

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