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Coventry Carol – Herod’s Great Slaughter

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day
This pore yongling,
For whom we do singe
By by lully lullay.

Herod the king,
In his raging,
Chargid he hath this day ;
His men of might,
In his owne sight,
All yonge children to slay.

That wo is me,
Pore child for thee,
And ever morne and say ;
For thi parting,
Nether say nor sing,
By by lully lullay.”

The Coventry Carol is one of the oldest that I have researched to date.  Although it was widely distrubuted in the 1500’s, many place this song as far back as the 1300’s.  The song was used in what was called mystery plays in Coventry that were put on by the craft guilds and tradesmen during the Christmas season.  The mystery plays told the story of Christ’s birth continuing up and there are records that seem to indicate there were at least 48 of these plays (not all played in the same year).  The Coventry Carol comes from a play that was performed by the “Tailors and Shearers” (one of the guilds).  The only other surviving pageant from that time period is known as the “Weavers”.

This particular pageant was performed on December 28 in honour of the Catholic tradition of the Feast of the Innocents.  So technically, this song is not, in fact, a “Christmas” carol.  It chronicled the tragic slaughter of all children under the age of 2 by Herod after the birth of Christ.

Although it’s not a carol full of joy, as most carols are, this carol really brings about the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15.   Interestingly, outside of the prophecy in Jeremiah and the one verse in Matthew 2 (verse 16), there are no historical references to this period of history.  But as a mother I can feel for the women whose children were taken in such a tragic moment in time.  The Coventry carol tells of the women weeping and praying for their children.

This carol has a beautiful haunting melody, and although it’s not one we typically sing at Christmas anymore, it does remind us of the reason why Christ came and brings our focus to the true purpose He had on earth.   Because He came to bring peace to the sorrowful, to bind up wounds, and heal broken hearts.

And He still does that today.

Resources:

  1. https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/notes_to_the_coventry_carol.htm

Amanda Cunningham

Amanda worked as a full-time school teacher for two years before getting married and having two wonderful kids.She blogs about faith, family, food, and fun.While crafting takes up a lot of her extra time, Amanda also strives to help others through ministry in her church and in the community.Amanda, also known as Mae, works as the church music director and is hoping to start tutoring and teaching music again in the days to come.

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