Sunday, January 14, 2018

Festum Asinorum

The fourteenth of January was remembered since the Middle Ages as “The Feast of the Ass.” Best known by its Latin name (as seen above), and mostly celebrated in France as “Fête de L'âne,” it commemorates the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. It was celebrated in a manner similar to other "Feast of Fools" celebrations elsewhere in Christendom.

Wikipedia reports, albeit without citation, of how ...

A girl and a child on a donkey would be led through town to the church, where the donkey would stand beside the altar during the sermon, and the congregation would "hee-haw" their responses to the priest.

... which may explain why it failed to endure so much as other folk celebrations.

Closer to the present, The Watersons, best known as folklorist and singers in the UK, recorded a ballad combining two accounts from various apocryphal gospels, that of "Herod and the Cock," and one other of the flight into Egypt. It was later recorded by New England folk artists John Roberts and Tony Barrand, fronting a quartet known as “Nowell Sing We Clear.”

King Pharim sat a-musing
And a-musing all alone.
There came a blessed Saviour
And all to him unknown.

Saying "Where did you come from good man,
And where did you then pass?"
It was out of the land of Egypt,
Between an ox and ass.

Well if you come out of Egypt, man,
One thing I fain would know.
Whether a blessed Saviour
Sprang from an Holy Ghost.

For if it is true, is true good man,
What you've been telling me,
This roasted cock, that's in the dish,
Shall crow full fences three.

Well the cock soon feathered and he grew soon well,
By the work of God's own hand.
Three times that roasted cock did crow
In the dish where he did stand.

Joseph, Jesus, and Mary
Were a-travelling further West
When Mary grew a-tired,
She might sit down and rest.

They travelled further and further,
The weather being so warm,
Until they came upon a husbandman
A-sowing of his corn.

"Come husbandman," cried Jesus,
"Throw all your seed away
And carry home your ripened corn,
That you've been a-sowing this day."

By there came King Herod,
With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
Whether Jesus had passed by.

Well the truth it must be spoken,
And the truth it must be known.
For Jesus he passed by this way
Just as me seed was sown.

But now I have it rippen
And some laid in my wain
Ready to fetch and carry
Into my barn again.

"Turn back then," said the captain.
Our labour's all in vain.
Tis full three quarters of the year
Since he his seed has sown.

So Herod was deceived
By the work of God's own hand.
No further he proceeded
Into the Holy Land.

This writer has also performed “The Ballad of King Herod” accompanied with guitar, to the tune of "The Wife of Usher's Well."

And so it goes.

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