Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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in the triforium galleries, who broke out into the exultant " Gloria in excelsis." Singing a hymn, " Pax in terris nunciatur," the shepherds advanced towards the crib where two priests—the midwives—awaited them. These addressed to the shepherds the question " Whom seek ye in the manger ? " and then came the rest of the " Quern quaeritis" which we already know, a hymn to the Virgin being sung while the shepherds adored the Infant. Mass followed immediately, the little drama being merely a prelude.4
More important than this Office of the Shepherds is an Epiphany play called by various names, " Stella," " Tres Reges," " Magi," or " Herodes," and found in different forms at Limoges, Rouen, Laon, Compiegne, Strasburg, Le Mans, Freising in Bavaria, and other places. Mr. E. K. Chambers suggests that its kernel is a dramatized Offertory. It was a custom for Christian kings to present gold, frankincense, and myrrh at the Epiphany—the offering is still made by proxy at the Chapel Royal, St. James's—and Mr. Chambers takes " the play to have served as a substitute for this ceremony, when no king actually regnant was present." 5 Its most essential features were the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem to the Magi, and their offering of the mystic gifts. The star, bright with candles, hung from the roof of the church, and was sometimes made to move.
In the Rouen version of the play it is ordered that on the day of the Epiphany, Terce having been sung, three clerics, robed as kings, shall come from the east, north, and south, and meet before the altar, with their servants bearing the offerings of the Magi. The king from the east, pointing to the star with his stick, exclaims :—
" Stella fulgore nimio rutilat. (The star glows with exceeding brightness.)"
The second monarch answers :
"Quae regem regum natum demonstrat. (Which shows the birth of the King of Kings.) "
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