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St John's Day

The 27th December is set apart by the Church to commemorate St. John
the Evangelist. Googe, in his translation of Naogeorgus, says:--

Next John the sonne of Zebedee hath his appoynted day,
Who once by cruell tyraunts will, constrayned was, they say,
Strong poyson up to drinke, therefore the Papistes doe beleeve
That whoso puts their trust in him, no poyson them can greeue.
The wine beside that hallowed is, in worship of his name,
The priestes doe giue the people that bring money for the same.
And, after, with the selfe same wine are little manchets made,
Agaynst the boystrous winter stormes, and sundrie such like trade.
The men upon this solemne day do take this holy wine,
To make them strong, so do the maydes, to make them faire and fine.

In explanation of this I may quote from Mrs. Jameson's Sacred and
Legendary Art (ed. 1857, p. 159): He (St. John) bears in his hand
the sacramental cup, from which a serpent is seen to issue. St.
Isidore relates that at Rome an attempt was made to poison St. John in
the cup of the sacrament; he drank of the same, and administered it to
the communicants without injury, the poison having, by a miracle,
issued from the cup in the form of a serpent, while the hired assassin
fell down dead at his feet. According to another version of this story
the poisoned cup was administered by order of the Emperor Domitian.
According to a third version, Aristodemus, the high priest of Diana at
Ephesus, defied him to drink of the poisoned chalice, as a test of
the truth of his mission. St. John drank unharmed--the priest fell

Wright gives two very pretty carols for St. John's day.


Amice Christi Johannes.

O glorius Johan Evangelyste,
Best belovyd with Jhesu Cryst,
In Cena Domini upon hys bryst
Ejus vidisti archana.

Chosen thou art to Cryst Jhesu,
Thy mynd was never cast frome vertu;
Thi doctryne of God thou dydest renu,
Per ejus vestigia.

Cryst on the rod, in hys swet passyon,
Toke the hys moder as to hyr sone;
For owr synnes gett grace and pardon,
Per tua sancta merita.

O most nobble of evangelystes all,
Grace to owr maker for us thou call,
And off swetenesse celestyall,
Prebe nobis pocula.

And aftur the cowrs of mortalite,
In heven with aungels for to be,
Sayyng Ozanna to the Trinitye.
Per seculorum secula.


Amici Christi, Johannes.

To the now, Crystys der derlyng,
That was a mayd bothe old and 3yng,
Myn hert is sett for to syng
Amici Christi, Johannes.

For he was so clene a maye,
On Crystys brest aslepe he laye,
The prevyteys of hevyn ther he saye.
Amici Christi, Johannes.

Qwhen Cryst beforne Pilate was browte,
Hys clene mayd forsoke hym nowte,
To deye with hym was all hys thowte,
Amici Christi, Johannes.

Crystys moder was hym betake,
Won mayd to be anodyris make,
To help that we be nott forsake,
Amici Christi, Johannes.

On 28th December the Holy Innocents, or the children slain by order of
Herod, are borne in mind. Naogeorgus says of this day:--

Then comes the day that calles to minde the cruell Herode's strife,
Who, seeking Christ to kill, the King of everlasting life,
Destroyde the little infants yong, a beast unmercilesse,
And put to death all such as were of two yeares age or lesse.
To them the sinfull wretchesse crie, and earnestly do pray,
To get them pardon for their faultes, and wipe their sinnes away.
The Parentes, when this day appeares, do beate their children all,
(Though nothing they deserve), and servaunts all to beating fall,
And Monkes do whip eche other well, or else their Prior great,
Or Abbot mad, doth take in hande their breeches all to beat:
In worship of these Innocents, or rather, as we see,
In honour of the cursed King, that did this crueltee.

In the Rev. John Gregorie's pamphlet, Episcopus Puerorum in die
Innocentium (1683, p. 113), he says: It hath been a Custom, and yet
is elsewhere, to whip up the Children upon Innocents' day morning,
that the memory of this Murther might stick the closer, and, in a
moderate proportion, to act over again the cruelty in kind.

By the way, the Boy Bishop went out of office on Innocents' day, and
the learned John Gregorie aforesaid tells us all about him. The
Episcopus Choristarum was a Chorister Bishop chosen by his Fellow
Children upon St. Nicholas Day.... From this Day till Innocents' Day
at night (it lasted longer at the first) the Episcopus Puerorum was
to bear the name and hold up the state of a Bishop, answerably
habited with a Crosier, or Pastoral Staff, in his hand, and a
Mitre upon his head; and such an one, too, some had, as was multis
Episcoporum mitris sumptuosior (saith one), very much richer than
those of Bishops indeed.

The rest of his Fellows from the same time being were to take upon
them the style and counterfeit of Prebends, yielding to their Bishop
no less than Canonical obedience.

And look what service the very Bishop himself with his Dean and
Prebends (had they been to officiate) was to have performed. The very
same was done by the Chorister Bishop and his Canons upon the Eve and
Holiday. Then follows the full ritual of his office, according to the
Use of Sarum; and it was provided, That no man whatsoever, under the
pain of Anathema, should interrupt, or press upon these Children at
the Procession spoken of before, or in any part of their Service in
any ways, but to suffer them quietly to perform and execute what it
concerned them to do.

And the part was acted yet more earnestly, for Molanus saith that
this Bishop, in some places, did receive Rents, Capons, etc., during
his year; And it seemeth by the statute of Sarum, that he held a
kind of Visitation, and had a full correspondency of all other State
and Prerogative.... In case the Chorister Bishop died within the
Month, his Exequies were solemnized with an answerable glorious pomp
and sadness. He was buried (as all other Bishops) in all his
Ornaments, as by the Monument in stone spoken of before,[83] it
plainly appeareth.

Hone, in his Every-Day Book (vol. i. pp. 1559-60), gives a facsimile
of this monument from Gregorie's book, and says: The ceremony of the
boy bishop is supposed to have existed, not only in collegiate
churches, but in almost every parish in England. He and his companions
walked the streets in public procession. A statute of the Collegiate
Church of St. Mary Overy, in 1337, restrained one of them to the
limits of his own parish. On December 7, 1229, the day after St.
Nicholas' Day, a boy bishop in the chapel at Heton, near
Newcastle-on-Tyne, said vespers before Edward I. on his way to
Scotland, who made a considerable present to him, and the other boys
who sang with him. In the reign of King Edward III, a boy bishop
received a present of nineteen shillings and sixpence for singing
before the king in his private chamber on Innocents' day. Dean Colet,
in the statutes of St. Paul's School, which he founded in 1512,
expressly ordains that his scholars should, every Childermas Day,[84]
'come to Paulis Churche, and hear the Chylde Bishop's Sermon; and,
after, be at hygh masse, and each of them offer a penny to the
Chylde-Bishop; and with them, the maisters and surveyors of the

By a proclamation of Henry VIII., dated 22nd July 1542, the show of
the boy bishop was abrogated, but in the reign of Mary it was revived
with other Romish ceremonials. A flattering song was sung before that
queen by a boy bishop, and printed. It was a panegyric on her
devotion, and compared her to Judith, Esther, the Queen of Sheba, and
the Virgin Mary.

The accounts of St. Mary at Hill, London, in the 10th Henry VI., and
for 1549 and 1550, contain charges for boy bishops for those years. At
that period his estimation in the Church seems to have been
undiminished; for on 13th November 1554 the Bishop of London issued an
order to all the clergy of his diocese to have boy bishops and their
processions; and in the same year these young sons of the old Church
paraded St. Andrew's, Holborn, and St. Nicholas, Olaves, in Bread
Street, and other parishes. In 1556 Strype says that the boy bishops
again went abroad, singing in the old fashion, and were received by
many ignorant but well-disposed persons into their houses, and had
much good cheer.

Speaking of the Christmas festivities at Lincoln's Inn, Dugdale[85]
says: Moreover, that the King of Cockneys, on Childermass Day,
should sit and have due service; and that he and all his officers
should use honest manner and good Order, without any wast or
destruction making, in Wine, Brawn, Chely, or other Vitaills.

In Chambers's Book of Days we find that, In consequence probably of
the feeling of horror attached to such an act of atrocity, Innocents'
Day used to be reckoned about the most unlucky throughout the year,
and in former times no one who could possibly avoid it began any work,
or entered on any undertaking on this anniversary. To marry on
Childermas Day was specially inauspicious. It is said of the equally
superstitious and unprincipled monarch, Louis XV., that he would never
perform any business or enter into any discussion about his affairs on
this day, and to make to him then any proposal of the kind was certain
to exasperate him to the utmost. We are informed, too, that in
England, on the occasion of the coronation of King Edward IV., that
solemnity, which had been originally intended to take place on a
Sunday, was postponed till the Monday, owing to the former day being,
in that year, the festival of Childermas. The idea of the
inauspicious nature of the day was long prevalent, and is even not yet
wholly extinct. To the present hour, we understand, the housewives in
Cornwall, and probably also in other parts of the country, refrain
scrupulously from scouring or scrubbing on Innocents' Day.

At the churches in several parts of the country muffled peals are rung
on this day, and with the Irish it is called La crosta na bliana, or
the cross day of the year, and also, Diar daoin darg, or Bloody
Thursday, and on that day the Irish housewife will not warp thread,
nor permit it to be warped; and the Irish say that anything begun upon
that day must have an unlucky ending.

A writer in Notes and Queries (4 ser. xii. 185) says: The following
legend regarding the day is current in the county of Clare. Between
the parishes of Quin and Tulla, in that county, is a lake called
Turlough. In the lake is a little island; and among a heap of loose
stones in the middle of the island rises a white thorn bush, which is
called 'Scagh an Earla' (the Earl's bush). A suit of clothes made for
a child on the 'Cross day' was put on the child; the child died. The
clothes were put on a second and on a third child; they also died. The
parents of the children at length put out the clothes on the 'Scag an
Earla,' and when the waters fell the clothes were found to be full of
dead eels.

Here is a good carol for Innocents' day, published in the middle of
the sixteenth century:--


Mark this song, for it is true,
For it is true, as clerks tell:
In old time strange things came to pass,
Great wonder and great marvel was
In Israel.

There was one, Octavian,
Octavian of Rome Emperor,
As books old doth specify,
Of all the wide world truly
He was lord and governor.

The Jews, that time, lack'd a king,
They lack'd a king to guide them well,
The Emperor of power and might,
Chose one Herod against all right,
In Israel.

This Herod, then, was King of Jews
Was King of Jews, and he no Jew,
Forsooth he was a Paynim born,
Wherefore on faith it may be sworn
He reigned King untrue.

By prophecy, one Isai,
One Isai, at least, did tell
A child should come, wondrous news,
That should be born true King of Jews
In Israel.

This Herod knew one born should be,
One born should be of true lineage,
That should be right heritor;
For he but by the Emperor
Was made by usurpage.

Wherefore of thought this King Herod,
This King Herod in great fear fell,
For all the days most in his mirth,
Ever he feared Christ his birth
In Israel.

The time came it pleased God,
It pleased God so to come to pass,
For man's soul indeed
His blessed Son was born with speed,
As His will was.

Tidings came to King Herod,
To King Herod, and did him tell,
That one born forsooth is he,
Which lord and king of all shall be
In Israel.

Herod then raged, as he were wode (mad),
As he were wode of this tyding,
And sent for all his scribes sure,
Yet would he not trust the Scripture,
Nor of their counselling.

This, then, was the conclusion,
The conclusion of his counsel,
To send unto his knights anon
To slay the children every one
In Israel.

This cruel king this tyranny,
This tyranny did put in ure (practice),
Between a day and years two,
All men-children he did slew,
Of Christ for to be sure.

Yet Herod missed his cruel prey,
His cruel prey, as was God's will;
Joseph with Mary then did flee
With Christ to Egypt, gone was she
From Israel.

All the while these tyrants,
These tyrants would not convert,
But innocents young
That lay sucking,
They thrust to the heart.

This Herod sought the children young,
The children young, with courage fell.
But in doing this vengeance
His own son was slain by chance
In Israel.

Alas! I think the mothers were woe,
The mothers were woe, it was great skill,
What motherly pain
To see them slain,
In cradles lying still!

But God Himself hath them elect,
Hath them elect in heaven to dwell,
For they were bathed in their blood,
For their Baptism forsooth it stood
In Israel.

Alas! again, what hearts had they,
What hearts had they those babes to kill,
With swords when they them caught,
In cradles they lay and laughed,
And never thought ill.

Next: New Year's Eve

Previous: Carol For St Stephen's Day

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