The Tudor Society

Childermas or Holy Innocents’ Day

Today is Childermas or the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a day that is still important in the Catholic Church and which was one of the Twelve Days of Christmas in Tudor times. Let me tell you about it in today's Claire Chats video talk.

As I said in last week's Claire Chats talk on carols, the Coventry Carol was a song sung as part of the Coventry Mystery Plays at the part that told of the massacre of the infants. Here are its lyrics in the original spelling.

Lully, lulla, thow littell tine child,
By by, lully, lullay thow 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 may
For thi parting nether say nor singe,
By by, lully, lullay.

Last week, I shared it being sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge, but here are some other versions:

There are 4 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    Thanks for sharing this hauntingly beautiful lament for the innocent children of Israel, specifically Bethlehem and surrounding areas in the final year of Herod the Great, who, unable to spare a baby King, sent his men with terrible orders to slay every male under two. The King literally had gone mad, we know this to be a historical fact from Nicholas of Damascus his biographer and Josephus, the great Jewish historian who worked for Rome. He was striken around this period with cancer of the scrotum, from descriptions of the time and his symptoms have been studied by medical experts today, who usually try to find a medical or psychological explanation for every power mad nut in history, but his condition would have caused swelling and extreme pain and possibly madness. Herod had actually been mad for ten years, ever since he murdered his wife and sons, whom he kept pickled in a jar under his palace and visited every day. He was completely paranoid and although the Gospel of Matthew is dismissed by “historians” because it is the only source which talks about the massacre, there are other sources which indicated he gave such an order. On his deathbed we are told by Nicholas he ordered 3000 of the best citizens of Jerusalem to be rounded up and killed after his death so as he would be remembered with lamenting. His sister, who was normally complicit in his murders, believed this was going too far and had them set free instead. We are also informed that Herod ordered many massacres to be carried out in his final years, too many to be detailed by a historian. He had killed off the ruling house whom he served and gone to Rome to offer them his services and Augustus confirmed him as King. He actually did a good job, his building work showed that, he was a skilled military commander and he used swift justice on bandits. He rebuilt the Second Temple. However, he also killed his wife, four of his sons, three brothers and possibly his mother as well. He killed several members of the Sanhedrin and he killed his wife’s father, grandfather, grandmother, her brothers and the lady herself. I don’t believe he would think twice of killing between 30 and 100 babies under two in order to get rid of one child whom the prophets and wise men called a King.

    This day is here to remind us of the innocent blood and the distress of the mothers trying to put their babes to sleep to hush them crying and their lament for the children they have lost. Such a slaughter would have been terrible and very distressing. This hymn brings home the fear and anguish of the mothers. Here it is sung so beautifully and makes my soul cry. Rest in peace, oh holy children, who died to enable the Christ Child, the Saviour could live and flee to Egypt. May His blood carry you on the wings of angles to the arms of Mary in heaven above. Amen.

    “A cry was heard in Ramah
    weeping and great lamenting.
    Rachel weeps for her children,
    refusing to be comforted,
    for they are all dead”

  2. L

    Hi Claire,and RealTudorLady,
    Thanks for the very interesting video and comments! I’m becoming much more knowledgeable about these traditions!

    Wishing you a lovely remaining 12 days of Christmas and a Happy New Year!


    1. R

      Thanks Laurie and a very Happy Christmas and New Year to you as well.

    2. C - Post Author

      Thank you! Wishing you lots of joy!

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Childermas or Holy Innocents’ Day