Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
and myrrh, came to the church of Sant' Eustorgio, the star preceding them through the air, . . . and a wonderful train, with resounding trumpets and horns going before them, with apes, baboons, and diverse kinds of animals, and a marvellous tumult of people. There at the side of the high altar was a manger with ox and ass, and in the manger was the little Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mother. And those kings offered gifts unto Christ ; then they were seen to sleep, and a winged angel said to them that they should not return by the region of San Lorenzo but by the Porta Romana ; which also was done. There was so great a concourse of the people and soldiers and ladies and clerics that scarce anything like it was ever beheld. And it was ordered that every year this festal show should be performed." 38
How suggestive this is of the Magi pictures of the fifteenth century, with their gorgeous eastern monarchs and retinues of countless servants and strange animals. No other story in the New Testament gives such opportunity for pageantry as the Magi scene. All the wonder, richness, and romance of the East, all the splendour of western Renaissance princes could law­fully be introduced into the train of the Three Kings. With Gentile da Fabriano and Benozzo Gozzoli it has become a magnificent procession ; there are trumpeters, pages, jesters, dwarfs, exotic beasts—all the motley, gorgeous retinue of the monarchs of the time, while the kings themselves are romantic figures in richest attire, velvet, brocade, wrought gold, and jewels. It may be that much of this splendour was suggested to the painters by dramatic spectacles which actually passed before their eyes.
I have already alluded to the Spanish " Mystery of the Magi Kings," a mere fragment, but of peculiar interest to the historian of the drama as one of the two earliest religious plays in a modern European language. Though plays are known to have been performed in Spain at Christmas and Easter in the Middle Ages,39 we have no further texts until the very short " Representation of the Birth of Our Lord," by Gomez Manrique, Senor de Villazopeque (1412-91), acted at the convent at Calabazanos, of which the author's sister was Superior. The characters
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