Monday, June 23, 2008

St. John's Eve

It is St. John's Eve. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Baptist. It was a tradition in the days of Christendom to have a bonfire in honor of the saint who was a "burning and shining light." (John 5:35) In some places, they still do; my father always had a bonfire in honor of the Birthday of the Baptist. In the Middle Ages, there were St. John carols (carols were not just for Christmas), dancing, and everyone would burn rubbish and old bones as a sign of the end of the old covenant. Houses would be decorated with St. John's Wort, and young girls would sleep with wildflowers under their pillows in the hope that they would dream of their future spouse. Fish Eaters, which has the details about the festivity, also discusses how the Vespers hymn for St. John's Day is the origin for "Do, Re, Mi:"
Another interesting thing about the Feast of St. John: the Breviary's hymn for this day, Ut queant laxis -- the hymn sung or recited during the blessing of the bonfire -- is the source of our names of musical notes -- Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. The hymn, attributed to Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon, ca. A.D. 720-799), was noted by a monk to rise one note in the diatonic C-Scale with each verse. The syllables sung at each rise in pitch give us the names of our notes (the "Ut" was later changed to "Do" for easier pronunciation):
Ut queant laxis
sonare fibris
ra gestorum
muli tuorum,
lve polluti
bii reatum,
Te Ioannes.


MissLucy said...

In Scandinavia, although predominantly lutheran, we still celebrate St. John's like you describe, with big bonfires for the entire neighbourhood, and every girl is told to put the seven wildflowers under her pillow (I don't know anyone who actually did, though!). I find it fascinating how some traditions tied to saints survive here, even though we've been lutheran for centuries.

elena maria vidal said...

Really! That is so interesting.

Father Mark said...

And I will be off to sing Ut Queant Laxis in about an hour! First Vespers of Saint John the Baptist: glorious.

elena maria vidal said...

Happy Feast day, Father!

Anonymous said...

In Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, et alt. instead of So (for G) we use Sol, and instead of Ti (for B) we use Si. So it is Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si.

Great post!


elena maria vidal said...

I did not realize that, thank you!