• Literature,  Music

    I Syng of A Mayden

    “I Syng of a Mayden,” sometimes titled “As Dewe in Aprille” is a Middle English Marian lyric (or perhaps more accurately, a carol) about the virgin Mary, with reference to the Annunciation story in Luke 1:26-38. The Middle English is 15th century, with enough oddities that I hesitate to speculate about the dialect. “I Syng of A Mayden” is preserved in a single British Library manuscript MS Sloane 2593 f.10v, a collection of 71 carols and songs or lyrics on paper, with the exception of a strip of parchment used to mend a folio. The MS. has been damaged; a number of folios are missing from the beginning. The first poem…

  • Calendar,  Music

    Adam Lay Ybounden

    Adam lay i-bowndyn, bowndyn in a bond, Fowre thowsand wynter thowt he not to long And al was for an appil, an appil that he tok. As clerkes fyndyn wretyn in here book. Ne hadde the appil take ben, the appil taken ben, Ne hadde never our lady a ben hevene quen. Blyssid be the tyme that appil take was! Therefore we mown syngyn Deo gratias! This Middle English carol is from the British Library’s manuscript Sloane 2593, ff.10v-11, c. 1400, so the carol is roughly contemporaneous with Chaucer, though it’s not in Chaucer’s London dialect of Middle English. The thematic core of the carol is the idea that if…

  • Calendar,  Music

    O Magnum Mysterium

    The origins of the Medieval Latin responsorial chant known as “O Magnum Mysterium” are not really clear any more. It’s early; before the tenth century. “O Magnum Mysterium” was part of the matins service for Christmas. For much of the Middle Ages, matins took place roughly at midnight. The Latin text describes the nativity scene in which Christ was born and laid in a manger, and animals were witnesses to the sacrament of his birth: O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia. In English: O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the…

  • Calendar

    Christmas Round Up

    I started Scéla (this blog) in 2002. I’ve had at least one Christmas-related post almost every year since then. Here they all are: Christmas Eve, 2004 I posted the Christmas story in Old English from Matthew 2, c. 995, taken from Joseph Bosworth, The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels in Parallel Columns. Christmas 2004, I posted “Ryse, hyrd-men heynd” from the Second Shepherd’s Play/ Secunda Pastorum by the Wakefield Master. Christmas 2006 I posted Luke 2:1 in Gothic. Christmas Eve 2007 I posted an English version of a Flemish carol about “The Angel Gabriel”. Christmas Eve 2008 I posted Luke 1:26–2:24. On Christmas Eve of 2009 I posted another in a series of…

  • Calendar,  Etymons

    Christmas and Xmas

    I noticed an online acquaintance the other day becoming extremely agitated that someone had referred to Christmas using the colloquialism Xmas. She felt that this was insulting, and offensive in the extreme. What she didn’t realize was that Xmas as a shortened form for Christmas has a venerable (and solidly Christian) history. The word Christmas is a compound of Christ + mass; we see it first in Old English in the form Cristes mæsse in 1038, according to the OED. The Old English form eventually evolved to the Middle English Christemasse. The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed,” a literal translation of the Hebrew cognate of messiah. Mass, as in the Christian ritual, derives from Middle English masse,…

  • Music

    The Boar’s Head Carol

    There was a Medieval Christmastide tradition of ceremonially cooking and presenting the boar’s head as a main course at a feast. Indeed, Queen’s college still celebrates a notable boar and an alum in “The Boar’s Head Carol.” Tradition says, or at least William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society, says that the boar’s head tradition of a feast at Queens derives from Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts,  Music

    The Cherry-Tree Carol

    The Cherry-tree Carol: O then bespoke Mary, so meek and so mild: “Pluck me one cherry, Joseph, for I am with child.” O then bespoke Joseph, with words most unkind: “Let him pluck thee a cherry that brought thee with child.” The Cherry-tree Carol appears to have first been collected in Britain in the seventeenth century. Francis James Child printed three versions, calling the song “The Cherry-Tree Carol,” and publishing it as Child Ballad 54. It was collected previously, and subsequently, in versions from all over the British isles, and from America’s Appalachia region, where Jean Ritchie popularized the Cherry-tree Carol, in a version memorialized by Joan Baez and others.…

  • Calendar,  Music

    The Wexford Carol / Carúl Loch Garman

    Carúl Loch Garman O tagaigí is adhraigí An leanbh cneasta sa chró ‘na luí Is cuimhnigí ar ghrá an Rí A thug dar saoradh anocht an naí A Mhuire Mháthair i bParas Dé Ar chlann bhocht Eabha Guí anois go séimh Is doras an chró ná dún go deo G n-adhraím feasta Mac Rí na hÓighe I mBeithil thoir i lár na hoíche Ba chlos an dea-scéal d’aoirí Go follas don tsaol san spéir go binn Bhí aingil ag canadh ó rinn go rinn Gluaisigí go beo, duirt aingil Dé Go Beithil sall is gheobhaith sibh é ‘Na luí go ciúin i mainséar tuí Siúd é an Prionsa, Mac Óg…

  • Calendar

    Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse

    3 37. Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse 38. Wiþ mony luflych lorde, ledeȝ of þe best, 39. Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer, 40. Wiþ rych reuel oryȝt and rechles merþes. 41. Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony, 42. Justed ful jolile þise gentyle kniȝtes, 43. Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make. 44. For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes, 45. Wiþ alle þe mete and þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse; 46. Such glaum ande gle glorious to here, 47. Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on nyȝtes, 48. Al watz hap vpon heȝe in hallez and chambrez 49. Wiþ…