dickeney at access.digex.net
Sat Sep 9 08:27:50 PDT 1995
On Fri, 8 Sep 1995, Margritte wrote:
> the one that Steeleye Span does. The notes say that this is a traditional
> carol from Pembrokeshire, South Wales, commemorating the ritual
> king-killing of the wren on St. Steven's day, Dec. 26.
> It also includes music for "The Wren Song", which begins "The wren, the
> wren, the king of all birds, St. Steven's day was caught in the firs...."
> This one is traditional Irish.
> While we're on the subject, does anyone know what connection there is
> between St. Steven and the wren in question?
I wonder if that place the wren was caught wasn't "firs" -- the evergreen
tree of that name -- but "furze" -- a kind of bramble-bush, much better
suited for catching things that fly into it?
The connection isn't with St. Stephen, the proto-martyr, but with St.
Stephen's _day_ -- the 26th of December, when this little ritual was
celebrated. The actual St. Stephen (if I may use that term, since he's
probably as mythical as any other apostle) was killed by stoning, like
the wren; his glyph in the old graphic calendars of saints was a little
pyramid of stones. There is, however, a medieval carol, quoted by TH
White as I recall, which made Stephen Herod's steward and told how he too
saw the portents and declared "there is a child born at Bethlehem/shall
help us at our need". Herod thought this pretty ungrateful of him and
declared that this was as impossible as that the chicken he was eating
should crow. Of course all us mythographers and fantasy fans know what
happens when somebody says something like that. Sure enough,
"The capon crewe 'Cristus natus est!'
"Among the lordes al."
Sooner than accept this omen Herod bade his soldiers
"Leaden Stephen fro the halle
"And stonen hym with stones!"
Which they did; "And therefore is hys even/on Christes owne day". That
is, St. Stephen's Eve is on Christmas, since his _day_ is 26 December.
But unless that chicken was really a wren, the date is the only connection.
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