Monday, December 26, 2016

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) Angel from the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark  January 29, 2011. "Without Melozzo, the work of Raphael and Michelangelo would have never existed.” This statement by Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, sums up the impact this renaissance painter had on some of the greatest Italian painters.

Ireland - Killing Wrens all because either Saint Stephen or some roving Vikings were betrayed by a chattering wren

The Irish used to celebrate the day after Christmas, St Stephens Day, by killing wrens

In Ireland, the day after Christmas once included hunting down a small bird & tying it to the top of a pole. That’s how the Irish celebrated St. Stephens Day, or Wren Day.  The name alludes to several legends linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. People dress up in old clothes, wear straw hats & travel from door to door with fake wrens (previously real wrens were killed), while they dance, sing, & play music.  One myth said that the robin, that was suppose to represent the New Year, killed the wren which represented the Old Year during this time.




Apparently birds hold a special place in the ancient Irish imagination & in that mythology the tiny wren holds powerful sway. Some believe the word "dreoilín" (Gaelic for "wren") has its roots in the term "Druid's bird" which acted as as messenger between this world & the next.  In Irish folklore, the wren was viewed as the cleverest of birds, & hunting the wren is thought to have a stronger relationship to sacrificing a sacred symbol.

Limerick-born Gerald Griffin (1803-1840), novelist, poet and playwright wrote of 19C wren boys in a book published after his death of typhus in 1857, called The Half Sir published in Dublin by James Duffy.


"The Wren-boys of Shanagolden] … were all assembled pursuant to custom on the green before the chapel-door on a fine frosty morning, being the twenty-sixth of December, or Saint Stephen’s Day – a festival yet held in much reverence in Mumha [Griffin has Munster], although the Catholic Church has for many years ceased to look upon it as a holiday of “obligation.”

‘Seven or eight handsome young fellows, tricked out in ribbons of the gayest colours, white waistcoats and stockings, and furnished with musical instruments of various kinds – a fife, a piccolo, an old drum, a cracked fidde, and a set of bagpipes – assumed their place in the rear [Griffin has rere] of the procession, and startled the yet slumbering inhabitants of the neighbouring houses by a fearfully discordant prelude.


‘Behind those came the Wren-boy par excellence – a lad who bore in his hands a holly-bush, the leaves of which were interwoven with long streamers of red, yellow, blue and white ribbon; all which finery, nevertheless, in no way contributed to reconcile the little mottled tenant of the bower (a wren which was tied by the leg to one of the boughs) to his state of durance. After the Wren-boy came a promiscuous crowd of youngsters, of all ages under fifteen, composing just such a little ragged rabble as one observes attending the band of a marching regiment on its entrance into a country town, shouting, hallooing, laughing, and joining in apt chorus with the droning, shrilling, squeaking, and rattling of the musicians of the morn...


Around this space the procession formed, and the Wren-boy, elevating his bush, gave out the opening stave of the festive chant, in which the whole rout presently joined:

“The Wran! the Wran! the king of all birds,
St Stephen’s day was caught in the furze;
Although he’s little, his family’s great.
Get up, fair ladies! and give us a trate!
And if your trate be of the best,
In heaven we hope your soul will rest!”’ 


Daniel Maclise illustration for S.C. Hall’s Ireland Its Scenery and Character (1841)

The tradition of Hunting the Wren was celebrated on Dec 26th, when a wren was captured & thought to bring good luck for the new year. In modern times, the tradition of "hunting the wren" involves musicians roaming from house to house playing music on "St. Stephen's Day" and "passing the hat."


The killing of birds on Wren Day was reportedly done by young boys also called Mummers.  Originally, groups of small boys would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either have caught it or it died from exhaustion. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.




Early in the morning of St. Stephen’s Day, the wren was carried from house to house by the boys, who wore straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt cork, and dressed in old clothes. At each house, the boys sing a Wren Boys’ song.


Typical lyrics are:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
 St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
 Although he was little his honour was great,
 Jump up me lads and give us a treat.
 As I was going to Killenaule,
 I met a wren upon the wall.
 Up with me wattle and knocked him down,
 And brought him in to Carrick Town.

Drooolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?

 Tis in the bush that I love best
 In the tree, the holly tree,
 Where all the boys do follow me.
 Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
 And give us a penny to bury the wren.
 I followed the wren three miles or more,
 Three miles or more three miles or more.
 I followed the wren three miles or more,
 At six o’clock in the morning.
 I have a little box under me arm,
 Under me arm under me arm.
 I have a little box under me arm,
 A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.
 Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
 a very good woman, a very good woman,
 Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
 She give us a penny to bury the wren.



Another explanation of this myth is that St. Stephen, hiding from his enemies in a bush, was betrayed by a chattering wren. The wren, like St. Stephen, should be hunted down and stoned to death. Another legend holds that during the Viking raids of the 700's, Irish soldiers were betrayed by a wren as they were sneaking up on a Viking camp in the dead of night. A wren began to eat breadcrumbs left on the head of a drum, and the rat-a-tat-tat of its beak woke the drummer, who sounded the alarm and woke the camp, leading to the defeat of the Irish soldiers and the continuing persecution of the wren.




The tradition of "hunting the wren" has continued virtually unbroken, at least in some parts of the country, for centuries. Men primarily, carrying tin whistles, accordions and the like, went from house to house playing simple tunes (due to the cold weather when stiff fingers can prevent the playing of more difficult pieces) and dressed in disguise. They often wore costumes of straw, but should not be confused with strawboys who often performed at wakes in times past.


The wren boys were often led by a 'hobby horse,' with a wooden head, with snapping jaws, placed on the shoulders of the 'leader.' Believed to have associations with the ancient god Lugh, the horse was thought to be of great importance in old Ireland, but like many of these old traditions, it's original meaning are often lost to us. That said, the antics of the hobby horse often made for great entertainment. They are most common in West Kerry where wrenboys and the tradition of Mummers plays and Mumming stayed very strong long after it had died out in many other parts of the country.




Today, no wrens are harmed in the name of Wren Day. In fact, the holiday is barely celebrated in most of Ireland. The town of Dingle has a parade.  Come Wren’s Day, thousands of spectators line the streets of Dingle to watch this spectacle of men, dressed in rigs and brightly colored costumes, take over the town.


They wren boys often begin their festivities with this old song:

The Wren, The Wren
The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,
 St. Stephenses day, he was caught in the furze.
 Although he is little, his honor is great,
 Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.
We followed this Wren ten miles or more
 Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
 We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
 And brought him here to show you all.
For we are the boys that came your way
 To bury the Wren on Saint Stephenses Day,
 So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
 Give us some help for to bury the Wren!



Starting at noon and going on until the early hours of the following day, The Wren is a blaze of color and a lot of noise, thanks not only to the accompanying musicians’ fife and drums, but to the collection boxes the wren boys shake. Rather than paying for a dance for the whole town, today’s funds go to local charities.  Be warned. Innocent by-standers will often get swept into the parade or chased down side-streets.  No longer to wrens have to fear Wren Day, but it seems like if you’re in Dingle, you might.

The proceeds of the collection boxes traditionally was spent on a party called a ‘Join’.   Picking a house for the shindig, a barrel of porter was bought for the men and wine for the ladies.  Jam, currant cake, bread, sugar and lemonade was provided for everyone.  A 'great night of sport and fun, dancing and music' followed that lasted until morning.




At the very least, 'hunting the wren,' reflects the universal practice of dressing in costume or disguise and having an 'out of body' or 'out or everyday life' experience, in order to relieve the tensions and constraints of every day life.


Another Version of the Wren Song:

The Wran, the Wran the king of all birds,
 St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
 Although he is little, his honour is great,
 Put your hand in your pocket and give us a trate.
 Dreoilin, dreoilin where is your nest?
 Its in the bush that I love best,
 Behind the holly and ivy tree,
 Where all the birds shall follow me.
 As I was goin' down to Youghal,
 I saw a wran upon a wall,
 I up with my stick and I knocked him down,
 Then brought him back to Mitchelstown.
 Mister_______ is a very fine man,
 It was to him we brought the Wran,
 You'll have luck throughout the year
 If ya give us the price of a gallon o' beer.
 Raise up your glasses, your bottles and cans
 We toast your subscription to bury the Wran,
 Up with the kettle and down with the pot,
 Give us your money and let us be off!

Saint Stephen's Day - Illuminated Manuscripts

Folio 162r from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408-9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, fl in France by 1399–1416) Suffrages of the Saints - Martyrdom of Saint Stephen, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1)

 In Acts of the Apostles, Stephen alarms the Jews with his preaching that the true temple is in the heart. He is charged with blasphemy, for which the penalty is stoning. Execution must take place outside the walls of Jerusalem; and Stephen is here shown in the countryside, his hands joined in prayer, submitting to his destiny as the first of Christ's followers to be martyred. Since Stephen was not one of the canonical 12 Apostles, he was considered to be a deacon.

Illuminated manuscript, Prayer book of Bishop Leonhard von Laymingen of Passau, Martyrdom of St. Stephen with kneeling bishop and Laymingen heraldry, Walters Manuscript W.163, fol. 175r

Niccolò da Bologna - Initial E with marterdom of St. Stephen, 1394



Illuminated manuscript, Prayer book of Bishop Leonhard von Laymingen of Passau, Martyrdom of St. Stephen with kneeling bishop and Laymingen heraldry, Walters Manuscript W.163, fol. 175r



St. Stephen & a few stones. Harley 1251 f. 46 British Library

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

A brief history of Boxing Day in Britain - Saint Stephen's Day with charitable boxes

Boxing Day from Thomas Kibble(1799-1859) Christmas Book with illustrations by Robert Seymour (1798-1836)

A brief history of Boxing Day
BBC History Magazine - Thursday 26th December 2013

"It’s a day we now associate with sales shopping and the enjoyment of Christmas dinner leftovers. But what is Boxing Day, and how was it historically celebrated? We asked Mark Connelly, professor of modern British history at the University of Kent


1794 Christmas Boxes

"Q: So what exactly is Boxing Day?

"A: Boxing Day is also known as St Stephen's Day – Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death in c34 AD.

"Being a saint’s day, it has charitable associations. Charitable boxes – collections of money – would have been given out at the church door to the needy.

"While the wider significance of St Stephen’s Day collapsed in Europe, it held on in Protestant England. It is an Anglo-Saxon thing. As England made more and more of a thing about Christmas, it began to concentrate its rituals onto just a few days. This was happening by the 18th century.

"The English came to believe that they owned Christmas – perhaps in partnership with other ‘Teutonic/Nordic’ peoples. This was a bit of an over-exaggeration as, of course, there are plenty of southern European Christmas traditions.

"The Church of England had gotten rid of so many days. The charitable efforts that, under the Catholic calendar, would have been scattered, became tied to the one day.

"By the late 18th century or early 19th century, Boxing Day became a day of outdoor activity.

"While Christmas Day was about being at home with your family, Boxing Day was a time to get outside, to get away from the home. People can only be cooped up for so long! There’s a need to exorcise – and exercise – all of that.

"In the 18C, Boxing Day became a day for aristocratic sports – hunting, horseracing, shooting. By the 19C, as a result of urbanisation, it was about professional football.

"As British society, particularly English society, became marked by large industrial cities, distinctive working class leisure pursuits evolved. With Boxing Day already associated with pleasurable, outdoor activities, it was soon adopted as a key date in the professional soccer calendar.



"Q: When did the charitable side of Boxing Day end?

"A: By the early 19C, charitable aims became more focused around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it was a very slow petering out. There was a debate about whether inmates should get beer and beef on Christmas Day, for example.

"Whether they got this depended upon the attitude of local guardians.

"And by this point, there were enough poor people to be thought of as an entity. Provision for the poor turned into a local government issue, as opposed to something individuals organised.

The Young Sweep giving Betty her Christmas Box, 1770-1780

"Q: So when did Boxing Day originate?

"A: Boxing Day emerged quite quickly after the establishment of Christmas. The very early church took no notice of Christmas – it wasn’t until the turn of the first millennia that the church started to push Christmas.

"It was a way to make sure converts stayed on board – the early church knew it could not stamp out all the winter festivals, so it decided to ‘Christianise’ them. So a whole series of pre-existing European mid-winter ceremonies were white-washed with Christianity.

"Boxing Day came quickly after.

"Christmas feast days were chipped away at – largely because of Protestantism and the development of the British economy. A more urbanised, factory-oriented economy meant that the machines and methods of production just had to be kept going.

"It was completely unlike the rhythms of the rural world which had dominated, and which allowed for more punctuation marks in the course of the year – so you ended up having to peg festivities on fewer days.

Christmas Eve in the morning  Boxing Day at Night 1770-1800

"Q: Historically, has Boxing Day been celebrated differently in other parts of the world?

"A: England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand are distinctive in making quite a thing of Boxing Day, with outdoor events such as picnics, horse shows, rides and walks.



"Q: How did Boxing Day become a bank holiday?

"A: The 26th of December became additional bank holiday in 1974, but in fact it had been a de facto day off for many years. This is partly because football made such a big thing of Boxing Day that many took time off anyway, and gradually during the course of the 20th century more and more employers realised that business was generally slow during this period and so, in effect, turned a blind eye to people taking the time off, which then became a custom in its own right.

"Q: Boxing Day today tends to be associated with shopping. When did this trend emerge?

"A: It began in the late 1990s, when the John Major government amended Sunday trading laws.

"When you open the door to trading on a Sunday, changing the spirit of when it is morally ‘right’ to shop, you open up trading on festival days."

Swaddling Clothes

"The angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). 


 1340s The birth of Jesus By Barna Da Siena (died c. 1351)

The phrase “swaddling clothes” is a translation of the root Greek word Sparganoo. The word appears in 2 verses in the New Testament in Luke 2. The 1st appearance of Sparganoo occurs in verse 7 & the 2nd is in verse 12. The Greek word Sparganoo means “to wrap a child in swaddling clothes (long strips of cloth)” or “to clothe in strips of cloth, to wrap up in strips of cloth, to wrap in cloths.”

Swaddling is an old practice of wrapping infants in blankets or cloth to restrict the movement of arms & legs. Probably the most famous record of swaddling is in the New Testament description of  the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:6–2:7: "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger."  


1340 Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Sienese painter, fl c 1317-1348) Virgin and Child

Several 15C paintings depict the Baby Jesus being presented at the temple (40 days after his birth) wrapped in swaddling clothes. Wrapped babies sometimes were on placed table tops or hung from a nail in a wall to give their mothers a rest or allow them time to do other work. 


1453 Andrea Mantegna (Italian artist, 1431-1506)  Presentation in the Temple

 1453 Andrea Mantegna (Italian artist, 1431-1506) Presentation in the Temple Detail

Swaddling fell out of favor in the 17C.  By the end of the 18C, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his book Emile: Or, On Education in 1762: "The child has hardly left the mother's womb, it has hardly begun to move & stretch its limbs, when it is given new bonds. It is wrapped in swaddling bands, laid down with its head fixed, its legs stretched out, & its arms by its sides; it is wound round with linen & bandages of all sorts so that it cannot move...A child unswaddled would need constant watching; well swaddled it is cast into a corner & its cries are ignored."


 1455 Andrea Mantegna (Italian artist, 1431-1506) Virgin with Baby


 1455 Andrea Mantegna (Italian artist, 1431-1506) Virgin with Baby

 1460-64 Giovanni Bellini (Italian painter 1430-1516) Presentation at the Temple


 1460-64 Giovanni Bellini (Italian painter 1430-1516) Presentation at the Temple Detail


 1150 Meister der Palastkapelle, Palermo


1308 Duccio di Buoninsegna


  Medieval Swaddled Babies (Bodleian Library Bodley 264)

 Swaddled Baby Book Astrology, France, XIVcentury


Madonna and Child detail - Giotto (1266-1337, Florentine)


1480s Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian artist, 1449–1494) Zacharias Writes Down the Name of his Son Ghirlandaio Tornabuoni Chapel Swaddling Clothes


1520  Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528) The Virgin with the Swaddled Child


1575-80 Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585) Madonna col Bambino

 1555 Studio of  Jean Clouet (1475–1540). Louis Charles de Bourbon (1555-57)  Comte de Marle

 1581 Unknown artist of the Dutch School.  Cornelia Burh  at the age of 2 months

1599 Unknown English artist, Perhaps Mary (d.1616) & Lettice (1585-1623) Cholmondeley, daughters of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley (1557-1601) & Mary Holford (1563-1626) Mary m Sir George Calveley & Lettice m Sir Richard Grosvenor (1595-1646)


1605 Federico Barocci (1535–1612) Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, the swaddled Prince of Urbino, in the cradle


1609 Peter Paul Reubens The Adoration of the Shepherds detail


1617 Unknown artist, De Wikkkelkinderen or The Swaddled Twins, dated April 7, 1617


Anonymous, The Dordrecht Quadruplets, 1621


1638-9 Unknown French artist,   Portrait of a Child Presumed to be Louis XIV (1638-1715) on a Bed 


1638-9 Louis XIV as an infant with his wet nurse Longuet de la Giraudiére


Georges de La Tour (French Baroque Era Painter, 1593-1652) Adoration of the Magi detail


1600s Unknown artist of the Anglo Dutch School, Portrait of a Baby, under a quilt probably swaddled

1646 Salomon de Bray (Dutch, 1597–1663). Double Portrait of the Twins Clara and Aelbert de Bray

1700s Unknown artist, Twins wearing Crosses