13 December 2011

Day 14 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Greensleeves

Just as the tune of "O Tannenbaum" has been used in many songs, so has "Greensleeves." Originally believed to have been written by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, as he was trying to woe her and was at first rejected, historians now say that the song is Elizabethan. They say thus, because the song is written in an Italian composition that did not migrate to England until after his death. We further know that the song was well known by Shakespeare's time, for he mentions the song in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

More popularly played during the Christmas season is "What Child is This?" in the "Greensleeves" tune, which was written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, a surgeon and hymn writer. With the tune sped up is the older and traditional "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (which is one of my favorites by Nat King Cole), which can be traced back to 17th century Derbyshire.

"I Saw Three Ships," is about three ships sailing into Bethlehem carrying the magi after the birth of Christ on Christmas morning. We all know the song lyrics are not historically accurate as the magi more than likely arrived two years after Jesus' birth and the closest body of water is the Dead Sea, which is at least 20 miles away. It is possible that the song is inspired from an event that took place in the 12th century, when relics of the magi sailed into Cologne, Germany to the site of the Cologne Cathedral (which had been previously housed in Milan, Italy at the basilica—some of the relics have since returned to Milan).

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