Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year!

As Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, "As this year has gone, so our life will go, and soon we shall say 'it is gone.' Let us not waste our time; soon eternity will shine for us."

In honor of the New Year, please accept a free e-copy of my medieval novel.


What the Nurses Saw

 From Alpha News:

A new book examines the nation’s COVID-19 protocols and those who were censored and silenced for speaking out against them. The author of “What the Nurses Saw,” Ken McCarthy, joined Liz Collin Reports to discuss what he documented. McCarthy is known as an educator, entrepreneur, and internet commercialization pioneer. He describes the book as “an investigation into the systemic medical murders that took place in hospitals during the COVID panic and the nurses who fought back to save their patients.” On the podcast, McCarthy talked about how he knew in the winter of 2020 that something seemed off with the COVID story the public was being fed.

“The news was coming out of China and anybody that thinks the news coming out of China is straight is profoundly misled. Second, the news was coming out of China and through the U.S. mainstream news media. Anybody that thinks any story that comes on those screens can be trusted is misled,” McCarthy said as he reflected on the early months of the pandemic.

“There were videos of people falling over in the street and people going into contortions on hospital gurneys. That has nothing to do with respiratory disease. So, the whole thing, it struck me as an early winter vaccine promo for the flu shot,” he added. McCarthy said people he interviewed for the book also expressed concern about who was showing up to work in hospitals.

“There was a weird legal thing that took place. If you’re a doctor in another country and you move to the U.S. and you want to practice medicine, you must jump through 10 million hoops before you’re allowed to do that. They waived all that. So, anybody who could pretend to have an MD anywhere in the world, and these people were not vetted very well, were shipped to the United States to work in these COVID hospitals. Many of them were not even ICU doctors. You cannot jump into an ICU unit without training. Just like you can’t go to a podiatrist to get open heart surgery. These are specialties. They require special education, special supervision,” McCarthy said. (Read more.)


Ancient Landmass Emerged and Disappeared 70,000 Years Ago

 The world has changed. From The Greek Reporter:

New archaeological research reveals that the sea off northwestern Australia once had islands and a massive landmass. This area was so large it could support around half a million people, as reported in a study published in Quaternary Science Review.

The study maps a world that appeared and then disappeared as sea levels changed over the past seventy thousand years. People are believed to have migrated to this part of the world between forty-five thousand to sixty-five thousand years ago.

The area was part of a paleocontinent called Sahul, connecting Australia to New Guinea. The submersion of this land might have led to significant cultural and population changes in northern Australia. (Read more.)

Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Hidden History of Carols

It seems that in the Middle Ages caroling parties could be a bit wild. Most people do not realize that carols were not just for Christmas but every feast day had its carols, and some were more bawdy than religious. To quote:
 The story of Christmas caroling is full of unexpected surprises. The practice itself has gone through many changes over the centuries, and our perception of caroling today is based only on the very recent history. We think of Christmas caroling as a wholesome, and even religious, activity. Caroling seems to speak of the beauty, innocence, and magic of the Christmas season. However, in researching this practice, I have discovered that caroling was not as innocent as we might think. In fact, the act of caroling was actively combatted by the Church for hundreds of years.

Uncovering the origins of caroling has proven difficult. Some sources give the 14th or 15th centuries as the earliest date for caroling. I believe the reason for this is because this is the period when caroling began to be adopted by the church, and this is when carols first began to be written down. However, there is much evidence that caroling was around long before that. We don’t have written carols from the early periods, but what we do have are edicts from the Church and recorded sermons which make reference to caroling. (Read more.)

Rumors Put to Rest

 From Breitbart:

Former first lady Melania Trump was with her ailing mother on Christmas, solving the mystery of her lack of appearance in a Christmas photo featuring members of the Trump family. The establishment media and anti-Trumpers were thirsty for a family scandal when they noticed that Melania was not included in the Trump family Christmas photos. Some of them claimed this was further proof that Melania is unhappy with Trump and leaving his side....The photo shows most of Trump’s family, although Eric Trump’s family is absent, and Melania’s father, Viktor Knavs, is included in the Mar-a-Lago photo shared by Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr. But the rumors were finally put to rest. Never Trump speculation was wrong. Melania Trump spent Christmas with her ailing mother. (Read more.)

A Celestial Map

 From Arkeonews:

Among the many castles in the Karst area, that of Rupinpiccolo is one of the best preserved. It stands immediately outside the town, on a limestone hill, the top of which is enclosed by a wall 3-4 meters thick, but which in some places reaches up to 7 meters. The height has been preserved for a maximum of 3 meters, but originally it must have reached 7-8 meters. Two large circular stones – two thick discs about 50 cm in diameter and 30 cm deep – were found near the entrance to the Castelliere and attracted the attention of archaeologists. One of the stones, according to Paolo Molaro of INAF and researchers from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and ICTP, is a representation of the sun, while the other is a carved celestial map dating from the 4th century BC. The German astronomy journal Astronomische Nachrichten published a study about the stones, in which the study’s authors said the celestial map shows the sky above Rupinpiccolo some 2,500 years ago, making the discovery the oldest known One of the celestial maps laid out in Italy. (Read more.)


Friday, December 29, 2023

Bernstein’s Real Home

I saw the film Maestro. I wish there had been more about Bernstein's work and less about his private proclivities. It was a brilliant film and it showed how his wife and his family were the source of his energy and creativity. From Architectural Digest:

It’s no small thing to open your doors to a film crew, never mind for a movie that intimately depicts your parents. But that’s exactly what conductor Leonard Bernstein and actor Felicia Montealegre Bernstein’s children did during the production of Bradley Cooper’s movie Maestro. Cooper shot at the family’s Fairfield, Connecticut, home which the couple bought in 1962 and Leonard left to his children, Jamie, Nina, and Alexander Bernstein, when he died in 1990.

“When a movie is shot in your house, it’s a tremendous disruption,” Jamie says, explaining that she’d gone through the process on a previous film that was shot in her New York apartment. But she and her siblings didn’t let that knowledge stop them from allowing Cooper and his crew to film in Fairfield. “An element of trust ran through the entire project, so it’s not surprising that that trust extended to letting our house be part of the film. Everything Bradley did created this environment where everybody felt this bond and warmth and sense of trust and safety.”

Though Jamie and her siblings were never on set during production, friends who help take care of the property witnessed the prep and described it as if the filmmakers had “picked the house up and taken it upside down and shaken it.” But by the end of filming, everything was returned back to its rightful place.

Production designer Kevin Thompson was a part of that careful upturning, as he sought the best way of representing the central characters’ tastes as they manifest in their living space. Research is a part of any production designer’s process and the opportunity to be in the home, never mind shoot there, was an unparalleled route to understanding the film’s two subjects. “The home had not changed much in terms of architecture or wall coverings and things like that, so we were able to actually see the layers of things that Felicia had done to the house,” Thompson explains. “We were also able to get into the intimate aspect of family photos, Felicia’s paintings on the walls, the subjects that she painted, the things in the junk drawer, and there were still traces of them almost everywhere.”

Felicia was the prime decorator for the Bernstein family, and though she worked with an interior decorator on their New York homes, she decorated the Fairfield home herself. “When Bradley and I went to the house the first time we walked around and we just got such an overwhelming emotional sense of what their country life was,” Thompson says. “It was very unpretentious. It was very comfortable. It was filled with little touches that Felicia had done because she was more the decorator, the flea market goer, the person that put the homes together.” On top of acting, Felicia was also a painter, particularly during time spent in Fairfield, and her artworks made their way into the film too. (Read more.)

The Fall of Minneapolis

How Marxism works.  A must-watch for all concerned citizens.


The Artistic Case for Historical Accuracy

 I try to make my novels as accurate as possible. I think that real history provides more drama than anything that can be invented. I am still going to see the Napoleon film. I still think it is funny how critics are clutching there pearls about the historical inaccuracy of the Napoleon film when so many other previous films are much worse. From The Critic:

Every Napoleon film has encountered these pointed critiques. The first cinematic depiction of Bonaparte was released in 1927 and directed by Abel Gance, running for more than eight hours. Historians praised the film for getting the basics about Napoleon right, though critics felt otherwise (Stanley Kubrick, who had expressed interest in making an epic about Napoleon, argued that in terms of story, it is a crude picture). Waterloo was slammed by some historians for depicting the battleground as muddy, when in reality, it was the opposite, playing out in key valleys like Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. A critical difference between those films and the most recent depiction, though, is that Scott doesn’t take his subject seriously.

So far, the director has dismissed any criticism of cherry-picking. He crudely tells off historians who have corrected him. As someone who has written about movies and art, it’s easy to sympathise with the viewpoint that artistic liberties must come first to make a figure compelling. Historical accuracy is a nebulous term to define, as it is shaped by our own biases and open to a wide range of interpretations. Whilst directors have every right to apply their lens in approaching an event, though, it should not mean that historical integrity ought to be disregarded. It is a crucial aspect of the aesthetic of historical fiction, which aims to put real-life events under a microscope and make them alive for discerning viewers.

Whilst the goal of historical accuracy is not to give the plain facts, it is to highlight those which emphasises the significance of events and personalities. In effect, it is conserving and promoting truth.

As the film critic Scott Tobias wrote, directors need to know why they are approaching their subject in a certain manner and whether it is ultimately the right way to do it. Take Oppenheimer, for example. Whilst the film brushes over important details of Oppenheimer’s involvement with communism, it certainly achieves its objective of demonstrating why he is important and how his invention of the atomic bomb had a significant impact on the new world order. The viewer is both informed and moved by Christopher Nolan’s ability to illustrate his subject’s relevance.

Historical accuracy should encourage artists to weigh the strengths, the weaknesses and ultimately the significance of figures — or in Tobias’ more crude terms, “Find the saint in the asshole. Find the asshole in the saint.” Napoleon Bonaparte was a unique figure. He was a tyrannical emperor, yet also one of the best military commanders in history. Ridley Scott seems to portray him as a dull and merely malicious leader, whose decision-making in the field is largely influenced by his lover Josephine Bonaparte.

It’s part of the director’s aim to lampoon the mythos of Napoleon. Reviews, good and bad, have said there are more comedic than dramatic moments in Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Napoleon. That spin minimises the greatness of the French emperor — only highlighting his incompetence. For some, that might seem courageous and brave, but for everyone else, it is cowardly and distracting.

Films like Amadeus and The Social Network are not close to being wholly true, but they do not seek to diminish their central figures. Those films manage to capture the backdrop of the time and why someone should care about the prodigal genius of Mozart or the prophetic circumstances of Mark Zuckerberg transforming the world with Facebook. These men are larger than life yet also ultimately human — not caricatures.

Artists should be able to take some liberties in painting the backdrop of events, so that viewers and readers can be entertained. The more research an artist does, however, the more it enriches the story. Historical accuracy doesn’t make a film wholly good, but it certainly enhances its inherent qualities.

All of the films I’ve mentioned have been challenged with enamouring audiences whilst also maintaining accuracy. There’s no definitive answer to getting that balance right, but we know that not attempting to do both sets your effort up for failure. The reason for historical accuracy as an artistic choice is simple — you get closer to the truth. Without truth, why not make pure fiction? (Read more.)

Thursday, December 28, 2023

'Sing we Yule til Candlemas'

From A Clerk of Oxford:
As a lover of carols, I'm much in favour of the medieval practice of celebrating Christmas to some degree all through the dark days of January, so today I thought I would post a carol which encourages us to keep singing throughout this season. It runs through not just the twelve days of Christmas but also the forty days of the Christmas season, all the way up to Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification, on February 2. It's a fifteenth-century carol (from Bodleian MS Eng. poet. e. I), and the unmodernised text can be found on this site, which also lists the various feasts mentioned: St Stephen on the 26th, St John on the 27th, the Holy Innocents on the 28th, St Thomas Becket on the 29th (check back soon for more carols about him!), the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st, Epiphany and Candlemas.

Make we mirth
For Christ's birth,
And sing we Yule til Candlemas.

(Read more.)

Cary Grant vs Archie Leach

 From Principle Magazine:

At this point in his career, Jason Isaacs has likely been in something you’ve seen, even if you don’t know what a house elf is. The seasoned actor is more than thankful for his ever-growing list of projects, citing his desire to “keep things fresh” by “working with first-time directors” and up-and-coming talent as a big reason for that. In reality, it likely has more to do with his ability to fully embody a character or command a screen. He is incredibly humble, undeniably charismatic, and, above all else, has a true understanding of compassion. Three qualities that made Jason the perfect actor to take on the role of Archie Leach (AKA: Cary Grant) in ITV’s new four-part series, Archie.

Archie, written by Jeff Pope, is not the story of Cary Grant. The limited series isn’t for those looking for a tale that focuses on the debonair leading man whom audiences worldwide fell in love with and still swoon over today. Instead, it depicts the man as he was off camera: Archibald Leach, a tortured soul who constantly sought love and acceptance from those around him. The show is still filled with quippy dialogue and snapshots of old Hollywood glamour as the era it covers requires, but it also does not shy away from the darker moments found within the true story. It is equal parts superficially entertaining and emotionally mesmerizing. As the episodes unfold, you are guaranteed to see the award-winning actor in a new light and, if you really pay attention, may just learn a thing or two about what it means to be human in the process.   (Read more.)


Art We Love: A Truly Luminous Pre-Raphaelite Christ

 From ArtNet:

The work I’ve chosen is William Holman Hunt’s 1853 painting The Light of the World, which is hung in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford. This feels like a potentially odd choice from an atheist because the painting is an allegorical depiction of Jesus taken from Revelation 3: Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

Jesus stands at a door, which is overgrown with ivy and which can only be opened from the inside as it has no handle. Almost-bare trees in the background and fallen fruit and leaves on the ground let us know that this is autumn. He’s holding a lit lantern and the warm glow that pours from it illuminates him from a deep, green, early dawn.

It’s said that it took Holman Hunt so long to complete the painting because he wanted to perfectly capture this moment, just before the sunrise. It’s classically Pre-Raphaelite in style. Jesus’s robe is heavily decorated and the lantern is ornate, with clear influence taken from Holman Hunt’s travels in the Middle East.

This artwork brings me joy because near to it in the chapel is a button that when you press it illuminates the painting, making the gold leaf shine. And I just think it’s a really fun idea. It is satisfying watching the painting change after you press the button, and I think that it shows that we can be creative in the way that we hang and display older artworks. It really brings this piece to life—almost in the same way that bringing a lit candle up close to paintings with gold leaf on them would have brought the colors to life in places of worship in the Middle Ages. (Read more.)


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

It is St. John's day, which is the name-day of my late father. This early American carol was one of his favorites. It invokes images of Eden and the lost earthly paradise, while bringing to mind the Tree of Life which is the Cross. From Hymns and Carols of Christmas:
1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

2. His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

3. For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

4. I'm weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
From The Thinking Housewife: "The lyrics were written by an unknown poet in the 18th century and call to mind the tradition in the Middle Ages of decorating Christmas trees with apples, symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge." (Read more.)

The Tree of Life and Death


Is the Harvard Brand Imperiled?

 From The National Review:

Professor William Jacobson contemplates here the harm that has been done to the “Harvard brand.” He notes that Claudine Gay is a non-scholar whose academic publications wouldn’t get her tenure at a low-level college. Ah, but Harvard no longer cares about scholarship — it is clearly concerned only about having a leader who will push the “diversity” agenda full throttle. In that regard, she was in on the nasty attack on Professor Roland Fryer because he (a scholar of repute) wrote a paper that undermined the leftist narrative about race. He also writes that she plagiarized the work of (among others) Professor Carol Swain.

Jacobson writes, “Gay is a child of privilege who learned how to play the game among other elites — she stole from Swain and shut down Fryer on her path to the presidency.” Bullseye! That’s what DEI is all about — a game that elites from “underrepresented” groups can play to get ahead. You don’t have to be good; you just have to say the right things, which won’t be challenged by anyone else who’s playing the game. Harvard’s choice of Claudine Gay as president is cut from the same cloth as the thousands of academic decisions these days where having the right ancestry and pledging fealty to the idea that America is irredeemably racist and must be completely transformed puts you at the top of the ladder. (Read more.)


Medieval Misrule and Mayhem

 From English Heritage:

By the 15th century ‘boy bishops’ had become the principal form of status inversion associated with the rituals of the Church. On mid-winter feast days especially associated with children (St Nicholas on 6 December and Holy Innocents on 28 December), a choirboy was elected by his peers to assume the duties of the bishop or abbot. Clad in a miniature episcopal mitre, boy bishops led processions and even preached sermons. They are documented at cathedrals and numerous abbeys.

The great Benedictine monastery at Bury St Edmunds was especially associated with boy bishops. Small lead tokens resembling late medieval coins have been found within the precincts of the abbey and elsewhere, especially in East Anglia. Some are inscribed with the opening verse of a hymn sung to welcome Henry VI to the abbey at Christmas 1433. The exact purpose of these tokens is open to question but it’s been suggested boy bishops distributed them to children and the poor who then exchanged them for treats at the abbey’s almonry.(Read more.)


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

"The Holly and the Ivy"

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
It is an old English carol, the original of which was a song about the complexity of male and female relationships. David Beaulieu of explains:
So where does the ivy come into play in the song, "The Holly and the Ivy?" Except for its appearance alongside holly in the opening stanza, it isn't even mentioned in the song. If this one, insignificant reference to ivy were struck from the lyrics, in what way would the song suffer? And if your answer is, "Not at all," then the next logical question to ask is: Why is the carol not titled simply, "The Holly," instead of, "The Holly and the Ivy?"
....The answer may lie in the fact that "The Holly and the Ivy" is based on older songs, such as "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy" ....
In "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy," ivy plays a role equally important to that of holly. The mention of ivy in the first stanza (and the last stanza, which merely repeats the first) in "The Holly and the Ivy" is therefore a hold-over, a remnant from an earlier era, a fragment pointing to music with a very different meaning. The influence of the earlier songs about the holly and the ivy was apparently so strong that the ivy was given a cameo appearance in this one, too -- despite the fact that only the holly has any major role to play in it.
What we see played out in "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy" and similar songs (perhaps dating back to medieval times) is the rivalry between men and women, thinly disguised as a contest between the holly and ivy. Holly was conceived of as being masculine in the plant symbology of the time, probably because it is more rigid and prickly; while the softer ivy is associated with the feminine in this tradition.
According to an article at Dave's Garden:
Using ivy as decoration also dates back to the time of the Romans, who associated it with Bacchus (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Dionysus, god of wine and intoxication). Ivy was a symbol of fidelity and marriage, and was often wound into a crown, wreath or garland.[3] It also served as a symbol of prosperity and charity, and thus it was adopted by the early Christians, for whom it was a reminder to help the less fortunate. In early England, it was considered bad luck to use ivy alone in decorating for Christmas, and would give the woman of the house the upper hand.
The same site explains the symbolism of holly:
The practice of ornamenting the home with holly began with the Romans, who regarded it as an omen of good fortune and a symbol of immortality. They sent congratulatory wreaths of holly to newlyweds, and also used it as a gift during the festival of Saturnalia (a celebration which itself is based partly on Greek and Egyptian solstice observances). As early Christians adopted the practice of decorating with the plant, holly took on religious associations--namely, that the spiky leaves represented Christ’s crown of thorns, and the red berries his blood....
The Christmas carol “The Holly and The Ivy is an example of how ancient beliefs were absorbed by the Christian church. The song we sing today was recorded by a folk song collector named Cecil Sharp, who heard it sung in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire, in 1909:[5]

The holly and the ivy,
When both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
Subsequent verses transform the carol into a Christian song. Dr. Ian Bradley, of the St. Andrews University School of Divinity in Scotland, writes that the although the lyrics focus on the holly as a symbol of Christ, ivy is also mentioned because of the carol’s basis on an older medieval song in which the plants personify men and women. In the earlier song, holly and ivy were equals, with holly representing goodness and masculinity; ivy standing for evil (or at least weakness) and femininity.[6]
To the medieval mind, the male was considered the dominant sex, and a support for the weaker and more delicate female, thus the rigid holly shrub and the twining ivy vine must have seemed like natural embodiments of those traits. The original meaning of “The Holly and the Ivy” is a reminder that there has always been a subtle and humorous (sometimes not so subtle and humorous) competition between men and women for dominance. These two tough plants may represent the struggle between the sexes, but they can also be seen as a celebration of male and female cooperation and interdependence. (Read more.)

(Artwork from Karen) Share

The Cost of “Making a Mess”

 From Archbishop Chaput at First Things:

Where to begin?

First, a key role of the pope is to unify the Church, not divide her, especially on matters of faith and morals. He has a similar duty to unify the bishops and not divide them.

Second, an essential task of a loving pastor is to correct as well as accompany. Blessings should encourage, but also, when necessary, challenge. People in same-sex and other non-marital sexual unions need a challenging accompaniment from the Church. Popes, bishops, priests, and deacons are called by their vocations to be prophets as well as pastors. Pope Francis often seems to separate these roles while Jesus himself always embodied both in his ministry. His words to the woman caught in adultery were not simply “Your sins are forgiven” but also “Go and sin no more.”

Third, relationships that the Church has always seen as sinful are now often described as “irregular.” This neuters the reality of morally defective behavior and leads to confusion about what we can and can’t call “sin.”

Finally, while the document does not in fact change Church teaching on marriage, it does seem to change Church teaching on the sinfulness of same-sex activity. Marriage isn’t the point of Fiducia Supplicans. Its point is the moral nature of same-sex unions, and this is a crucial distinction.

Bishops in this country and abroad have issued statements reiterating Catholic teaching on matters of human sexuality and same-sex relationships. Nigeria’s bishops noted that there was “no possibility in the Church of blessing same-sex unions and activities” because they would “go against God's law [and] the teachings of the Church.” And some insightful critiques of the Vatican document (along with some quite caustic ones)—for example, here, here, here, and here—have already appeared. Others are in the pipeline. But all such comments seek to mitigate damage already done. Whether the hearer is delighted or angered by the latest Vatican text, the practical fallout is a wave of confusion in the bloodstream of the Church at Christmas—a season meant for joy, but now tangled up with frustration, doubt, and conflict.  (Read more.)



Cecily Neville’s Christmas 1461 AD

 From Anne O'Brien:

We know that Cecily must have marked the occasion at Eltham with the usual high degree of medieval feasting and merriment since it was placed on record by the London Chronicler of the day.  Although no details remain, it is presumed that a feast was held, all seemly and dignified.  Strict protocol was laid down in the Ryalle Book about the seating and serving of guests appropriate to Cecily’s household on special occasions.  Cecily would not share dishes with anyone except her younger sons.  Any bishop present would be seated at the upper end of Cecily’s table whereas the nobility took the seats at the lower end.  Cecily’s daughter Margaret – later to become Duchess of Burgundy – would be seated above all the Duchesses of England, in spite of her lack of title at this time.

We presume that as well as the feasting, the usual games and festivities, with music and dancing, were held to mark the birth of the Christ Child. But midway through this festive time, Cecily pursued a distinct change in atmosphere.  The 30th day of December was the first anniversary of the death of Richard, Duke of York, at the Battle of Wakefield where he and their son Rutland were both decapitated, their heads placed with that of Salisbury, Cecily’s brother, on Micklegate Bar in York.  A paper crown adorned York’s brow in a final act of malicious humiliation. (Read more.)


Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!

The Nativity by Giotto
And a Happy New Year! Thanks to everyone who has visited this blog in 2023~ I will pray for you all this Christmas Day in the morning. Please pray for me.
Welcome, all wonders in one sight!

       Eternity shut in a span;

Summer in winter; day in night;

       Heaven in earth, and God in man.

Great little one, whose all-embracing birth

Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.
 ~  from "In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord" by Richard Crashaw


Last Will and Testament of Louis XVI

The last Will and Testament of Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, given on Christmas day, 1792.
In the name of the Very holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
To-day, the 25th day of December, 1792, I, Louis XVI King of France, being for more than four months imprisoned with my family in the tower of the Temple at Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever, even with my family, since the eleventh instant; moreover, involved in a trial the end of which it is impossible to foresee, on account of the passions of men, and for which one can find neither pretext nor means in any existing law, and having no other witnesses, for my thoughts than God to whom I can address myself, I hereby declare, in His presence, my last wishes and feelings.
I leave my soul to God, my creator; I pray Him to receive it in His mercy, not to judge it according to its merits but according to those of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has offered Himself as a sacrifice to God His Father for us other men, no matter how hardened, and for me first.
I die in communion with our Holy Mother, the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church, which holds authority by an uninterrupted succession, from St. Peter, to whom Jesus Christ entrusted it; I believe firmly and I confess all that is contained in the creed and the commandments of God and the Church, the sacraments and the mysteries, those which the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. I never pretend to set myself up as a judge of the various way of expounding the dogma which rend the church of Jesus Christ, but I agree and will always agree, if God grant me life the decisions which the ecclesiastical superiors of the Holy Catholic Church give and will always give, in conformity with the disciplines which the Church has followed since Jesus Christ.
I pity with all my heart our brothers who may be in error but I do not claim to judge them, and I do not love them less in Christ, as our Christian charity teaches us, and I pray to God to pardon all my sins. I have sought scrupulously to know them, to detest them and to humiliate myself in His presence. Not being able to obtain the ministration of a Catholic priest, I pray God to receive the confession which I feel in having put my name (although this was against my will) to acts which might be contrary to the discipline and the belief of the Catholic church, to which I have always remained sincerely attached. I pray God to receive my firm resolution, if He grants me life, to have the ministrations of a Catholic priest, as soon as I can, in order to confess my sins and to receive the sacrament of penance.

I beg all those whom I might have offended inadvertently (for I do not recall having knowingly offended any one), or those whom I may have given bad examples or scandals, to pardon the evil which they believe I could have done them.

I beseech those who have the kindness to join their prayers to mine, to obtain pardon from God for my sins.
I pardon with all my heart those who made themselves my enemies, without my have given them any cause, and I pray God to pardon them, as well as those who, through false or misunderstood zeal, did me much harm.

I commend to God my wife and my children, my sister, my aunts, my brothers, and all those who are attached to me by ties of blood or by whatever other means. I pray God particularly to cast eyes of compassion upon my wife, my children, and my sister, who suffered with me for so long a time, to sustain them with His mercy if they shall lose me, and as long as they remain in his mortal world.
I commend my children to my wife; I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them. I enjoin her above all to make them good Christians and honest individuals; to make them view the grandeurs of this world (if they are condemned to experience them) as very dangerous and transient goods, and turn their attention towards the one solid and enduring glory, eternity. I beseech my sister to kindly continue her tenderness for my children and to take the place of a mother, should they have the misfortune of losing theirs.

I beg my wife to forgive all the pain which she suffered for me, and the sorrows which I may have caused her in the course of our union; and she may feel sure that I hold nothing against her, if she has anything with which to reproach herself.

I most warmly enjoin my children that, after what they owe to God, which should come first, they should remain forever united among themselves, submissive and obedient to their mother, and grateful for all the care and trouble which she has taken with them, as well as in memory of me. I beg them to regard my sister as their second mother.

I exhort my son, should he have the misfortune of becoming king, to remember he owes himself wholly to the happiness of his fellow citizens; that he should forget all hates and all grudges, particularly those connected with the misfortunes and sorrows which I am experiencing; that he can make the people happy only by ruling according to laws: but at the same time to remember that a king cannot make himself respected and do the good that is in his heart unless he has the necessary authority, and that otherwise, being tangled up in his activities and not inspiring respect, he is more harmful than useful.

I exhort my son to care for all the persons who are attached to me, as much as his circumstances will allow, to remember that it is a sacred debt which I have contracted towards the children and relatives of those who have perished for me and also those who are wretched for my sake. I know that there are many persons, among those who were near me, who did not conduct themselves towards me as they should have and who have even shown ingratitude, but I pardon them (often in moments of trouble and turmoil one is not master of oneself), and I beg my son that, if he finds an occasion, he should think only of their misfortunes.

I should have wanted here to show my gratitude to those who have given me a true and disinterested affection; if, on the one hand, I was keenly hurt by the ingratitude and disloyalty of those to whom I have always shown kindness, as well as to their relatives and friends, on the other hand I have had the consolation of seeing the affection and voluntary interest which many persons have shown me. I beg them to receive my thanks.

In the situation in which matters still are, I fear to compromise them if I should speak more explicitly, but I especially enjoin my son to seek occasion to recognize them.

I should, nevertheless, consider it a calumny on the nation if I did not openly recommend to my son MM. De Chamilly and Hue, whose genuine attachment for me led them to imprison themselves with me in this sad abode. I also recommend Clery, for whose attentiveness I have nothing but praise ever since he has been with me. Since it is he who has remained with me until the end, I beg the gentlemen of the commune to hand over to him my clothes, my books, my watch, my purse, and all other small effects which have been deposited with the council of the commune.

I pardon again very readily those who guard me, the ill treatment and the vexations which they thought it necessary to impose upon me. I found a few sensitive and compassionate souls among them – may they in their hearts enjoy the tranquillity which their way of thinking gives them.

I beg MM. De Malesherbes, Tronchet and De Seze to receive all my thanks and the expressions of my feelings for all the cares and troubles they took for me.

I finish by declaring before God, and ready to appear before Him, that I do not reproach myself with any of the crimes with which I am charged.

Made in duplicate in the Tower of the Temple, the 25th of December 1792.



Irish Christmas Blessings and Carols

From Ireland Calling:
Carols are also important in an Irish Christmas. Ireland has its fair share of original carols such as The Wexford Carol and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night. Many others have been translated into Irish and performed by leading artists. These are some of Ireland’s best known Christmas blessing and carols.

The Wexford Carol is one of the most famous and most popular hymns to come out of Ireland. Its origins are uncertain but it certainly dates back several centuries. It originated in Co Wexford and first came to wider prominence due to the work of William Grattan Flood who was the organist at St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy. He first came across the carol when he heard it being sung by a local singer in Wexford in the 19th century. He started to perform it at Christmas services in the cathedral and it was later published in the Oxford Book of Carols. It soon became a standard in carol books across the world. (Read more.)

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Holkham Hall by Candlelight

From Tatler:

For Lady Leicester, it’s a passion project that, over the past decade and a half, has gone from a one-room makeover to a ten-room takeover gathering around 20,000 intrigued guests from across the country to embrace the wonder and whimsy of Christmas. ‘We never have an overall theme, we find that’s almost too rigid. We like to have different stories in each room,’ she explains. Naturally, it’s one that comes with a whole lot of planning. In fact, ideas for the following years’ designs often start as early as when decking out the the current year.

In recent years, such themes have come to life in the form of ‘The Dog Room’ (‘there was a Batoni portrait out on loan, so we did the same portrait but with one of my dog’s faces,’ says Lady Leicester. ‘It became a Pompeo Bark-oni, and we had artwork with all the dogs in it as if they were having their grand portraits done – and a gingerbread kennel. It was one of our crazier ideas’). As well as ‘The Paper Room’ (‘we worked with a local couture dress designer who made an amazing wedding dress all out of paper. I’ll never forget all the different pieces and pinning it all together. We also had huge paper Christmas trees,’ she beams).

This year, the wedding bells do chime again. As both Lady Leicester and Lady Glenconner are displaying their very own gowns as part of the exhibition. ‘How did we get into our wedding dresses?’ Lady Glenconner ponders. ‘I can’t get into it anymore. My arm is bigger than the waist!’ she laughs. It was Norman Hartnell who created Lady Glenconner’s lace-sleeved dress for the occasion – the same designer who made the late Queen Elizbaeth II’s, where Glenconner was maid of honour. ‘I was married here [at Holkham]. It’s an amazing house to celebrate in,’ she says. (Read more.)


Unintentionally Hilarious

People who accuse Trump of being Hitler are totally ignorant of the real Hitler. From The Federalist:

One of the most unintentionally hilarious quotes from the media of 2023 appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Politico Playbook newsletter. “The first reaction was shock,” an anonymous Washington Post reporter said, referring to a recent round of forced buyouts for nearly 250 staff writers and editors at the paper. “The Washington Post had done so well — was so profitable in the years of Trump, of Covid, and was owned by one of the richest people in the world … We’re talking about a ‘baby and the bath water,’ sort of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach that left people really confused.”

Shorter version: Life was pretty great at the Post when we could run non-stop hysterical coverage of Donald Trump and an uncontrollable virus that scared everyone just in time for the election! Plus, we had a billionaire backer who gave it all his blessing! Those were the days…

To be sure, nobody should celebrate when a person loses their income. And that’s why I’m just as sorry for all of them as they would be for me if I lost my job. (It’s okay to laugh.)

It turns out that fomenting racial divisions, hyping up a worrisome pandemic, and perpetuating the Russia-collusion fake out was just a short-term business strategy. Who could’ve known?!

Now the Post is trying to recapture the magic with ridiculous stories like the one this week headlined, “Trump reprises dehumanizing language on undocumented immigrants, warns of ‘invasion.'” It had all the greatest hits.

Think of the children!: “During a campaign event in Reno, Nev.,” the article said, “the clear polling leader in the Republican race blamed President Biden for what he portrayed as a dangerous incursion on the homeland — although many migrants detained at the southern border are parents and children seeking protection, and studies show that undocumented immigrants are less likely than U.S. citizens to commit crimes.”

That’s a classic. Rather than acknowledge that, at minimum, Americans say in large majorities that the open Southern border is a serious problem that Biden and Democrats refuse to address, the Post, just as before, is fixated on reminding its readers that ackshully, many of the world’s destitute dumping themselves into our care are women and children, so have a heart, will ya?

Trump is Hitler!: Trump “accused them in a speech and in a social media post of ‘poisoning the blood’ of the country,” the story continued. “That language has caused alarm among some civil rights advocates and immigrant groups, who have compared it to the writings of Adolf Hitler.” (Read more.)


How Shakespeare Helped Shape Christmas As We Know It Today

From Daniel McCarthy at The New York Post:

“Hamlet” isn’t altogether a Christmas play, but Christmas is a conspicuous part of it. And there is good reason to think that “Hamlet” was much on the minds of two authors who shaped modern conceptions of Christmas in the 19th century. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the night before Christmas. . .”) includes the charming line “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” — which echoes the guard at Elsinore who reports “Not a mouse stirring.” Twenty years later in “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens would refer to Hamlet’s ghost in his own tale of yuletide hauntings.

In fact, Dickens observes the rule Marcellus set down in “Hamlet”: The ghosts are gone, their work accomplished, by the dawn of Christmas Day. There’s a faint reminder of “Hamlet” in an earlier Dickens tale set at Christmas as well. As in “Hamlet,” an impudent gravedigger features in a Christmas episode of “The Pickwick Papers,” “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.” Curiously, the goblin who first accosts the gravedigger has a catchphrase — “Ho! Ho! Ho!” — now familiar with a very different Christmas character. Moore and Dickens knew their Shakespeare, and when they set out to create new stories for the season, they didn’t forget the precedents the Bard had provided, few though they were.

“A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one of sprites and goblins,” says Mamillius in “The Winter’s Tale.” In Shakespeare’s day, sprites and goblins — and ghosts — were seasonally appropriate before Christmas. There’s debate about whether Shakespeare invented the “Marcellus rule” that banned such beings from Christmas Day onward, through Twelfth Night on the eve of Epiphany. Yet if there were no ghosts, there were other kinds of spirits. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” were a time of revelry — drinking, singing, putting on plays, and merriment — when not Santa Claus but a “Lord of Misrule” was the mascot of the season.

In Shakespeare’s age Puritans, much like Hamlet, were scandalized by bibulous customs like the wassail. “Hamlet” reminds us that our Christmas troubles and soul-searching are not altogether new. Shakespeare, too, had to ask whether his country had lost its values: Was it Christian or pagan, Catholic or Protestant, stoically philosophical or, like Hamlet in his agony, nihilistic and despairingly materialist? (Read more.)


Saturday, December 23, 2023

Lord Mayor Richard Whittington Dispensing His Charities

 From A Medieval Potpourri:

It is said Richard’s father was experiencing some financial difficulty but, in any case, being the third and youngest son and thus highly unlikely to stand much chance of coming into a useful inheritance, he was apprenticed at an unknown date to a London mercer.  The mercers of those times dealt with the wonderful luxurious fabrics worn by the nobility and  well to do:  silk, linen, fustian, worsted, and luxury small goods, and the wealthiest of the trade expected to participate in the export of English wool, woollen cloth, and worsted, and to import the other merceries (2).    While some young men may have ended up bitter,  twisted  and truculent by being sent away from their families to take up a trade instead of effortlessly inheriting the family jewels,  young Richard seems to have taken to it like a duck to water becoming very proficient in his trade but perhaps it is more a modern trait to endlessly whinge about how unfair life can be and how hard done by you are.   He supplied his luxury goods to members of  the royal court and in doing so he  became a favourite of King Richard II. These members of the nobility included  John of Gaunt,  Thomas of Woodstock, Henry Bolinbroke (the future Henry IV),  the Staffords and ‘royal favourite Robert de Vere to whom he supplied nearly £2,000 worth of mercery’.   The king himself now turned to Richard to supply his wants and needs. Initially it was quite modest buys including in 1389 £11 for two cloths of gold which the king gifted to two knights who had come down from Scotland as messengers.   However  in 1392-4 Richard’s career as a mercer was on a roll when he sold goods worth £3,474 16s 8 and a half pence to the Royal Wardrobe. These goods included velvets, cloths of gold, damasks taffetas and gold embroidered velvets.  Richard Whittington had arrived as they say.  Anne Sutton wrote that Richard II and his uncle Thomas of Woodstock were perhaps Richard’s most profit spinning customers.  Clearly the   goods Richard supplied – some of which were from Italy – must have been exquisite and he has been described by Caroline Barron as a  ‘connoisseur of works of craftsmanship’.  When Bolingbroke took the throne as Henry IV,  Richard would continue to supply Henry’s court with luxury wares.    These would include some of the sumptuous  fabrics required for the marriages of the king’s daughters Philippa and Blanche such as ten cloths of gold for Blanche’s marriage at a total cost of £215 13s 4d and pearls and cloths of gold costing £248 10s 6d for Philippa’s nuptials.  

Besides providing wonderful things he also made many loans to Richard II as well as Henry IV and his son, Henry V. At the time Richard II was evicted from the throne he still owed £1,000 to our Richard. The newly crowned Henry IV agreed that Richard should be repaid this amount. Richard’s career,  now a very wealthy man, had evolved into that of a successful money lender particularly to kings and those of the nobility including Sir Simon Burley and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset. From 23 August 1388 to 23 July 1422, he made least 59 separate loans to the Crown of sums ranging from £4 to £2,833 (3).

About 1402 Richard made an advantageous marriage to  Alice, daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn, a wealthy landowner who had no male heirs. This marriage thus brought with it  the prospect of a generous inheritance.  In 1402 Fitzwaryn actually settled properties in Somerset and Wiltshire upon his daughter and new son-in-law but Richard,  ever preferring liquid capital to property,  offered the titles to his brother-in-law,  John Chideok,  for the sum of £340 (4). However as things came to pass Alice predeceased both her father and husband. Sadly there would be no children from the marriage which seems to have been happy and when Alice fell mortally ill in 1409/10 Richard obtained a special license from the king to bring a renowned Jewish doctor –  Master Thomas Sampson from Mierbeawe  – over from the continent to treat her. After Alice’s death Richard would remain a widower for the rest of his life.  (Read more.)

 More HERE.

More about the children's story about Dick Whittington and his cat that many of us grew up with, HERE.

Poor Whittington was severely beaten at home by his tyrannical mistress the cook, who used him so cruelly, and made such game of him for sending his cat to sea, that at last the poor boy determined to run away from his place.... He traveled as far as Holloway, and there sat down on a stone to consider what course he should take; but while he was thus ruminating, Bow bells, of which there were only six, began to ring; and he thought their sounds addressed him in this manner:"Turn again, Whittington, Thrice Lord Mayor of London."

"Lord Mayor of London!" said he to himself, "what would not one endure to be Lord Mayor of London..!" So home he went....
~from "Dick Whittington and His Cat"


Murderous Teens

 From Law and Crime:

Donnie Smith’s family said that the father of two sons and one daughter, and grandfather to one granddaughter,  died on Dec. 18, one week before Christmas. Smith “loved race cars, softball, and sports,” his obituary said. Franklin County court records reviewed by Law&Crime show that Evans-Bennett and Hughes were arrested Wednesday and had arraignments scheduled for Thursday morning. The third suspect, a minor, was arrested the same day as his co-defendants. It’s unclear at this time if the 17-year-old is being charged as an adult. (Read more.)


How The Trinity Nuclear Test Spread Radioactive Fallout Across America

 From Discover:

Today, that changes thanks to the work of Sébastien Philippe at Princeton University and colleagues. This team have used a state-of-the art weather simulation for the 5 days after each nuclear test to simulate how the fallout would have dispersed.

The result is the highest resolution estimate ever made of the spread of radioactive fallout across the U.S. It marks the start of the Anthropocene with extraordinary precision and it throws up some significant surprises. Some parts of the U.S. are known to have received high levels of fallout and the new work is consistent with this. But the research also reveals some parts of the US that received significant fallout without anybody realizing. 

The findings “provide an opportunity for re-evaluating the public health and environmental implications from atmospheric nuclear testing,” say Philippe and co. Between 1945 and 1962, the U.S. conducted 94 atmospheric nuclear tests that generated yields of up to 74 kilotons of TNT. (Seven other tests were damp squibs.) 93 of these tests took place in Nevada but the first, the Trinity test in the Oppenheimer film, took place in New Mexico. (Read more.)


Friday, December 22, 2023

The Mystery of the ‘Real’ Milady de Winter

 Yet another descendant of Mary Boleyn. From History Extra:

In the preface to The Three Musketeers, Dumas claims that he was researching Louis XIV in the Bibliothéque nationale de France when he happened upon the first volume of The Memoirs of M. d’Artagnan. This is not entirely true: he found the book in the public library in Marseilles, borrowed it and never returned it.

The Memoirs of M. d’Artagnan is a first-person pseudo memoir written by a former soldier, Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, and first published in 1700. It tells the story of d’Artagnan, a young man setting out on his journey to become a musketeer. As well as d’Artagnan, Dumas discovered Athos, Porthos and Aramis, who would eventually become major characters in The Three Musketeers. He also found Milady de Winter. Courtilz never gives Milady’s name. Instead, she is referred to simply as ‘Milady’ followed by a dash or asterisks where her name should be. She is introduced as a maid of honour to Henrietta Maria, queen to the executed Charles I of England, whose exile in France Milady shares.
The daughter of an English peer, Milady has as much wit as beauty, and d’Artagnan thinks her the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. He promptly falls in love with her. There then follows a complicated sexual intrigue, one of several for Courtilz’s d’Artagnan. Once it is over, Milady is never heard from again. This is the episode that Dumas adapted for The Three Musketeers. The affair of the queen’s diamonds is absent from Courtilz, but at least part of the story as Dumas told it is supported by several contemporary memoirs. Those of Françoise Bertaut de Motteville, Pierre de La Porte and Henri-Auguste de Loménie, Comte de Brienne – all of whom served at the royal court of France – each provide an account of the Duke of Buckingham’s visit to France in 1625. Buckingham had been sent to escort Henrietta Maria, then Charles I’s new queen, to England. While in France, he ostentatiously courted the queen, Anne of Austria.
None of these memoirs, however, mention the diamonds that Anne was said to have given to the duke. For this part of the story, it is necessary to consult the memoirs of Henri-Auguste's son, an obscure publication known as Recueil A, and the memoirs of François de La Rochefoucauld. Louis-Henri de Loménie, Comte de Brienne served Louis XIV as secretary of state, a position he inherited from his father. He left a memoir, which was published in the early 19th century. Certain editions, particularly that edited by Jean François Barrière, include an account of the queen’s diamonds.

It does not form part of Brienne’s original narrative – he was not even born at the time of the alleged diamond affair. Instead, it is mentioned in an introductory essay, written by the editor, explaining the manners and customs of 17th-century France. It is then related in full in an appendix, Éclaircissements historiques, or ‘historical clarifications’. In this version, the diamond thief is named as Lady Clarik. However, the story was lifted word-for-word from Recueil A, and inserted into the memoir. Recueil A is the first volume of a large collection published in the 18th century. It comprises an assortment of documents, including extracts of memoirs, concerning the history of France. The author of the account of the diamond affair is enigmatically identified as ‘M. le M. de T’. Behind these initials, according to the anonymous editor of the Recueil, is René de Froulay, Comte de Tessé.

The Comte de Tessé was a real person. Born in 1651, he was a military man, diplomat and courtier. He did indeed leave a memoir, but the diamond affair does not appear in it. The story as found in Recueil A and later inserted into the memoir by Brienne is, therefore, unreliable. What then of La Rochefoucauld? In his memoir, the lady who stole the diamonds was not Lady Clarik but the countess of Carlisle. In fact, Lady Clarik did not exist – but Lady Carlisle certainly did. (Read more.)

The Drive-By Smears Of Clarence Thomas

 From The Federalist:

Innuendo masquerading as reporting is the point. Its purposeful implication is that Thomas can be bought. By my estimation, at least two-thirds of the article rehashes the outlet’s previous stories about Thomas’s relationship with Harlan Crow, who never had a case in front of the justice.

The hit lacks any evidence Thomas engaged in unethical behavior to benefit anyone, much less himself. Nothing prohibits justices from attending conferences. Nothing prohibits them from having friends. Nothing prohibits them from taking out loans to buy a house or an RV. Nothing prohibits them from whining about their salaries. If anything, the story only confirms that Thomas, one of the least wealthy members of the court, would rather grouse about a lack of money-making opportunities than seek them out unethically.

But it’s also important to remember that no single story about “conservative” SCOTUS justices really matters in and of itself. The quality of the journalism isn’t the point. The quality sucks. The point is flooding the zone. (Read more.)

How Christmas Was Celebrated in the Middle Ages

 From History:

Long before Santa Claus, caroling and light-strewn Christmas trees, people in medieval Europe celebrated the Christmas season with 12 full days of feasting and revelry culminating with Twelfth Night and the raucous crowning of a “King of Misrule.”

Christmas in the Middle Ages was preceded by the month-long fast of Advent, during which Christians avoided rich foods and overindulgence. But all bets were off starting on the morning of December 25, according to Anne Lawrence-Mathers, a historian at the University of Reading in the UK where she specializes in medieval England, a period that runs roughly from the 5th century A.D. to 1500 A.D. 

“Once Christmas Day came around, if you had the stamina, then you were expected to eat, drink, be merry, dress up, play games, go dancing around the neighborhood for 12 days solid before you collapsed in a heap,” she says. (Read more.)


Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Coventry Carol

Christmas is tinged with sorrow. From A Clerk at Oxford:
Lullay, lullay, thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, lullay, thou 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 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 young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and may,
For thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
The Coventry Carol is among the medieval carols most often heard today, and I find the popularity of this profoundly sad song at Christmastime intriguing. As John of Grimestone's lullaby suggests, there are actually a considerable number of medieval lullabies which share the mood of the Coventry Carol: somewhere between lullaby and lament, full of melancholy and pity for the child being comforted, whether it's Herod's victims, the Christ-child, or any human baby born into a weeping world. (Here's another beautiful example.) I wonder if the popularity of the Coventry Carol today indicates that it expresses something people don't find in the usual run of joyful Christmas carols - this song of grief, of innocence cruelly destroyed. Holy Innocents is not an easy feast for a modern audience to understand, and I'll confess I find the medieval manuscript images of children impaled on spears just horrible - but then, they are meant to be, and they're horrible because they're all too close to the reality of the world we live in. The idea that this is incongruous with the Christmas season (as you often hear people say) is largely a modern scruple, I think. It's our modern idea that Christmas is primarily a cheery festival for happy children and families - our images of Christmas joy, both secular and sacred, are all childlike wonder and picture-perfect families gathered round the tree. This is very nice, of course, for those who have (or are) children, or happy families, but for those who don't - those who have lost children or parents, who face loneliness or exclusion, who want but don't have children, family, or home - it can be deeply painful. (Read more.)