Ok friends, frenemies, and random passers-by, take this with your Holiday Punch, if you’re still drinking at this hour … or with whatever concoction your man-about-the-house makes for a pick-me-up the next morning.
Warning: Rife with reverent irreverence and worse.
I have it on unassailable authority (a YouTube commenter going by the handle ‘Trompicavalas’ currently) that the lyrics of this song written down three quarters of a millennium ago are in a blend of languages that varied much from village to village, but were mutually intelligible to a degree their modern derivatives (Galician and Portuguese) are not.
Now for the embarrassing part: Everyone within earshot of my miniature speakers knows that this song is my new favorite Christmas carol. It has a kind of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ or ‘Drummer Boy’ energy to it. Both of those carols take more from lore than from the originating story of Nativity, and indeed this one I bring unto you today isn’t quite the carol I thought on first listening to it. I caught words related to sacred themes throughout, but entirely missed the point of the song.
It isn’t a carol sung to inspire good will or alms-giving after all. Instead it’s an enthusiastic appeal to another emotion (harnessed in the service of moralizing) popular at Christmastide and central especially to the Catholicism in the Iberian peninsula: Wonder.
… Specifically it endeavors to instill the wonder at miracles that people associate afterwards with the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Not having been raised Catholic, and only having lived in half a dozen New World republics, I still cannot grasp what leads people to make this association or how closely the myriad Marys that work miracles are linked in peoples minds to the one who ostensibly lived in Judea a while earlier and became pregnant without the usual fuss and bother.
Sometimes these miracles are not only dubiously connected to Mary, but as miracles they may leave something to be desired in the incredibility department. … i.e. the phenomena could be readily explained without resorting to magical thinking.
So here is my synopsis of the lyrical message in this one:
<<Here’s a church where Mary the mother of Jesus Christ won’ take none of that sass from no lowdown sinner men. For proof, just listen to me sing about a story some other believers told me. In their account two pilgrims (not necessarily the type that brought diseases and guns to Pocahontas) came by this church and spent the night (people used to do this, and still do when the next-door banana republic is shunting ordinary folks who for some reason don’t like the idea of being killed by gang hit-boys if they fail to cough up enough extortion fees to keep their lemonade stand or shoe factory open, but I digress again.) One of these two pilgrim types stole some money from the offerings and then in the morning was miraculously unable to leave to continue his journey until he’d stood up, Scarlet Letter style, to confess his malfeasance in front of a bunch of other folks. Oh, and lots of people witnessed this miracle, and it is definitely true, and miraculous, and the work of Mary who is up in heaven with God, because like I said, she in da house and she don’ take no miserable lowdown shit.>>
Below is a version with lyrics for your next karaoke event, as well as some of the story in fresco, sculpture, and description, though if you’re just reading the English it’s pared way down. (This video includes two songs, with the one I’m describing ending at around 5:55. The second song is in fact a Nativity song mentioning the visit of the Magi and so forth.)
Here’s one with an effect I love: a drone voice:
And here’s the version I first fell in love with, even before setting eyes on my Bluetooth-enabled phone and seeing that gorgeous girl behind and to the strumming-arm side of the lutenist. Yeah. That one:
The same recording is found below in the context of the whole concert. You might enjoy other delightful performances in there, like the bagpipe and shawm whirlwind that follows ‘A Madre de Jhesu-Cristo’, or the promising but off-pitch efforts of two of the soloist youngsters in the equally energetic ‘Cuncti simus concanentes’ from the following century’s efforts at promoting the Mary thing. And speaking of nubile females, the colleen singing ‘Mariam, matrem virginem, attolite’ is worthy of worship for that solo, though God and I would have rather started wooing a bit earlier had either of us noticed her virtues at the time. (God isn’t a pedo, or even a hebephile, in case anyone’s wondering. Or at least we’ve got to wait to hear it from God’s own mouth, since Him and Mary was a one-off thing, and that can happen to anyone. Pedos on the other hand experience that routinely. Well not the conception part, but the immaculacy.)
Here’s a copy/paste of a helpful comment with ‘track’ start points, though I’ve removed the time-stamp hyperlinks to clean up this page a bit:
01. O virgo splendens (Llibre Vermell, nº 1, s. XIV) 1:55
02. Laudemus Virginem (Llibre Vermell, nº 3, s. XIV) 8:05
03. Splendens ceptigera (Llibre Vermell, nº 4, s. XIV) 9:40
04. A Madre de Jhesu-Cristo (Cantiga de Santa María, nº 302, s. XIII) 12:05
05. Instrumental (Cantigas de Santa María, s. XIII): 17:00
– O que diz que servir ome, nº 311
– Des oge mais quer’eu trobar, nº 1
– Por razon tenno d’obedecer, nº 113
– Como somos per conssello, nº 119
06. Imperayritz de la ciutat joyosa (Llibre Vermell, nº 9, s. XIV) 22:40
07. Cuncti simus concanentes (Llibre Vermell, nº 6, s. XIV) 32:03
08. Mariam, matrem virginem, attolite (Llibre Vermell, nº 8, s. XIV) 35:55
09. Mui grandes noit e dia (Cantiga de Santa María, nº 57, s. XIII) 44:20
10. Los set gotxs (Llibre Vermell, nº 5, s. XIV) 48:40
11. Instrumental (Cantigas de Santa María, s. XIII): 53:20
– Tanto son da Groriosa, nº 48
– Mui gran Dereit e das bestias, nº 52
12. Polorum Regina (Llibre Vermell, nº 7, s. XIV) 57:40
13. Ad mortem festinamus (Llibre Vermell, nº 10, s. XIV) 1:03:43
14. Stella splendens (Llibre Vermell, nº 2, s. XIV) 1:10:35
Finally one for the road, with a suitably accelerated tempo:
…But Wait! There’s MORE! And this one is pretty much exactly what I would sound and look like if I joined the circus. Includes some impressive fingerwork from the drummer:
After hearing this entrancing song about 73 and 11/16ths times today, I’m pretty sure I still don’t believe in the miracle, unless we’re talking about the fundamental miracle of music and human life and emotion. But then, you have to wonder…
…why did I add a Gaelic Storm video onto the end of the longest post ever?