Thursday, 25 March 2010


Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, known in medieval England as Lady Day. It was also the beginning of the New Year until, I believe, the eighteenth century, so if you don't like the way 2010 has been going so far, take the opportunity to make a fresh start...

Another old name for the Annunciation is the Salutation, from which several ancient pubs (!) in England take their name. There's a delightful fifteenth-century song on this theme called 'The Salutation Carol', which is in the Oxford Book of Carols (a little altered by the editors):

Refrain: Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell
This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

1. Tidings true there be come new,
Sent from the Trinity
By Gabriel to Nazareth,
City of Galilee.
A clean maiden, a pure virgin,
By her humility
Shall now conceive the Person
Second in deity.

2. When that he presented was
Before her fair visage,
In most demure and goodly wise
He did to her homage;
And said, “Lady, from heaven so high.
That Lordes heritage,
For he of thee now born will be,
I'm sent on his message.

3. “Hail, Virgin celestial,
The meek'st that ever was!
Hail, temple of the Deity!
Hail, mirror of all grace!
Hail, Virgin pure! I thee ensure,
Within a little space
Thou shalt conceive, and him receive
That shall bring great solace.

4. Then bespake the maid again
And answered womanly,
“Whate'er my Lord commandeth me
I will obey truly.”
With “Ecce sum humillima
Ancilla Domini;
Secundum verbum tuum,”

She said, “Fiat mihi.

You can see the tune here. It's very jolly. So much so, in fact, that there is a drinking song from the same period to the same tune called 'Bryng us in good ale' ('for our Blessed Lady's sake', of course). Marian devotion to the tune of a minstrel song (or vice versa)? Sometimes medieval literature is exactly what you think it's going to be, and more.

Another famous salutation carol is Angelus ad Virginem, as sung by Chaucer's conceited Oxford student Nicholas in the Miller's Tale - but let's not say too much about that...

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