Midieval English carols

When one looks at Christmas much of our understanding of the hymns of Christmas come from the enlightenment period and onward when great musicians created some of the best known worship of the nativity.

However, if on examines some of the oldest English hymns one can get a feeling for the thoughts of people 1000 years ago and the songs they held as important to the Christmas season.  Keeping in mind that much of our understanding of these hymns has been coloured by the reformation and the English Civil War when Christmas was outlawed and much of the older traditional English worship was destroyed.

Many scholars feel that this has created a gap which took away less solemn, more catholic style of hymns.

Here are a couple of samples, a couple religious and one not so much.

Mary is quene of the allë thinge,
And her sone a lovely kinge.
God graunt as allë good endinge!
Regnat dei gracia

Another is this:

It was dark, it was dim,
For men that levëd in gret sin;
Lucifer was all within,
Till on the Cristmes day.

There was weping, there was wo,
For every man to hell gan go,
It was litel mery tho,
Til on the Cristmes day.

Compare these rather somber pieces to this more jaunty tune:

The shepard upon a hill he satt;
He had on him his tabard and his hat,
His tarbox, his pipe, and his flagat;
His name was Joly Joly Wat,
For he was a gud herdës boy.
Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.

Whan Wat to Bedlem[Bethlehem] cum was,
He swet, he had gone faster than a pace;
He found Jesu in a simpell place,
Betwen an ox and an asse.
Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.

‘Jesu I offer to thee here my pipe,
My skirt, my tar box, and my scripe;
Home to my felowes now will I skipe,
And also look unto my shepe,’
Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.

So these hymns, and maybe more secular everyday song focus on different aspects of the nativity.  In the first two is more about the blessing of Jesus as Saviour.

The more secular one is focused more of the day to day sacrifice of individuals.  For me these are delightful symbols.  They show us that for most Christians, the Christmas celebration, even if it had pagan roots, or confused dating, still meant something special to the writers of these songs.

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2 Responses to Midieval English carols

  1. larryco_ says:

    The most touching lyric, to me, was:

    false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

    That pretty much says it all. I wonder if they also had IPOD’s to listen to these tender carols in the 11th century?

  2. Jon W says:

    yeah yeah, guess that is what I get for doing it in Firefox where it recognized the e symbol.

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