The only text that is now in existence for the Christmas song, I sing of a lady that is matchless, was likely written down by a monk at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds about the year 1400. His name is possibly John Bardwell. The song appeared to be well-known in its day, but after the Reformation, it was forgotten and wasn’t found again until Victorian antiquarians, as reported by Telegraph.
Famous carol song
Or was it really that lost? John Jacob Niles, an American composer, travelled through the Appalachians in 1933 in quest of folk music. He made a note of the now-famous carol Sing we the Virgin Mary near Mayfield, Kentucky, and later published it. The similarities to the mediaeval text from the fifteenth century are too striking to be random; they evidently developed from one another.
What force preserved this shattered lyric unwritten for 500 years, from East Anglia to the Appalachian highlands?
A belief that Christmas is more than merely a day of celebration, even in our contemporary secular culture, may be found in this “near-miraculous survival,” as the New Oxford Book of Carols describes it. During this season, we protect traditions that could otherwise be lost, give voice to convictions that we might otherwise push to the back of our minds, and perform acts that we might not otherwise. It is the one celebration we still have when we cannot and may not want to escape the religious component.
John Bardwell (assuming it was him) lived in a culture where there was no room for doubting the existence of God. In addition, he lived in a society where the Host, the bread and wine used in Mass, as well as shrines and the relics of saints, were regarded to possess great spiritual power and where the distance between the spiritual and ordinary was much smaller than it is in our world.
These realities were intended to be communicated through the construction of cathedrals and churches, according to Abbot Suger, who is credited with being largely responsible for the development of Gothic architecture.
In a world where all had been lost, John Jacob Niles wrote the successor carol. Over the last half-millennium, Western culture has become de-sacralized. If we are atheists today, we feel that this universe is all there is and find prior modes of thought to be completely ludicrous. Even if we consider ourselves to be believers, we frequently maintain a conceptual model in which God created the material creation but continues to exist fundamentally outside of it, rather than passing through it on a daily basis.
The world is flat, thus there is nothing unique about it for the vast majority of Westerners. The primary purpose of objects is their material function; this worldview, which permeates art and architecture, may be one factor contributing to the widespread ugliness of much of our built environment over the past century.
But perhaps this style of thinking is insufficient. Most of us feel like we’re missing something. To fill the void, we go to the beauty of nature, beautiful architecture, and music. And during this season, Whether you like it or not, we too celebrate Christmas. We refer to the “magic of Christmas” frequently, which I don’t think is accidental. I concur with many who claim that Christmas is the only time of year when we still have a glimpse of how the world used to be, through a glass darkly, like the Rev. Daniel French, one of the “Irreverend” podcast three.
Certain days in that universe, where the calendar had both symbolic and temporal importance, were more spiritually potent than others. “No spirit dares stir abroad on Christmas Eve, as Marcellus says in Hamlet. No planets can strike, no fairy can take, no witch can beguile; such is the holiness and grace of the time”
Final major holiday
Christmas is still the final major holiday that has not been virtually completely desecrated. For Christians, it is the point at which God enters the world—not merely as the author, but also as a character. There’s no doubt that others can relate to the central narrative of parenting and vulnerability. Additionally, the well-known tale, the lights, the tree, the carols, and the candles all possess a potency that is not present at other times of the year. Despite the fact that “there is no proof,” the story would not be complete without the angels, shepherds, and animals.
We just serve as the story’s guardians; “we did not write it. That custom is significant. It’s no accident that even within our own families, we frequently have Christmas customs that serve merely as the “how we do things in our house” and serve to unite us.
The fact that John Bardwell’s carol to the Virgin was never completely forgotten may not be all that shocking. The miracle at its core still has as much impact now as it did 500 years ago, if not more. Blessed young woman, according to prophesy; at this time, when Jesus is being born, everyone honours you.
Did you subscribe to our newsletter?
It’s free! Click here to subscribe!