Christmas is the nice festival in the Christian calendar, you know, the one where no-one dies or gets nailed to anything, that sort of thing. Or that's what I thought...
|Anno Domini Edwin Long|
|Massacre of the Innocents Joseph Noel Paton|
|Triumph of the Innocents William Holman Hunt|
|Massacre of the Innocents Leon Cogniet|
But what of those little glowing babies?
Well, Paton had no fear in showing the death of the children, but somehow I find this less moving than the Cogniet image of the mother hiding, looking to us with a mixture of terror, anger, hope, madness and a whole bag of other things as she listens to the peers of her baby being slaughtered en mass. It is her connection to us in that second that makes the moment real, as if we were there. Are we hiding, are we hunting? It is a terrible, terrifying place to be, made all the more awful by the look that joins us.
In this vein, we have The Coventry Carol, dating from the 16th century...
Many thanks to the gorgeous Mediaeval Baebes for their rendition.
While appearing to have very little to do with the Victorian period, the only manuscript copy of this haunting song was burnt in 1875. It is sung a cappella traditionally and it comes from a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, performed in Coventry (hence the name). When I was singing along to this in the car in December, without paying much mind of what I was singing, I was struck by the lyrics, the heartbreak and the horror during what is meant to be a jolly season of snow and holy babies cropping up in sheds. In some ways, it is unsurprising that this 500 year old song is not one commonly belted out by primary school children (although Herod did crop up in the nativity at Lily-Rose's school this year, together with a little boy who obviously wanted to be Herod and would have done the job himself, as he stole a sword off one of the soldiers in a desperate bid for power - actually quite exciting), but I think we do Christianity a disservice to ignore this rather horrific incident among all the 'deep and crisp and even'-ness that goes on. Like all the instances of bitter among the sweet that we covered in Blogvent, this is a crowning example of how seemingly you don't get something amazing without sacrifice. We tend to think of Christmas as a chance to reward ourselves with lots of lovely pressies and that's it, but if the Massacre of the Innocents tells us anything it's that great things are bloody victories. Yes, it might ultimately be a triumph, but there are times when it feels like anything but.
On that utterly miserable note I ought to get some sleep, 2013 looks like it will be filled with some damn hard work...