Seven Joys of Mary, The
DESCRIPTION: The carol relates the (five, seven, nine) joys that Mary had: bearing Jesus, raising him, seeing his success and miracles, observing his crucifixion and resurrection, etc.
EARLIEST DATE: 1833 (Sandys)
KEYWORDS: carol Jesus religious
FOUND IN: US(Ap,NE) Canada(Mar) Britain(England(South)) Ireland
REFERENCES (19 citations):
VaughanWilliams/Palmer, #8, "The Nine Joys of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
RoudBishop #148, "The Joys of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Olney, pp. 211-213, "The Seven Joys of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders-NewGreen, pp. 185-18, "The Joys of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp.275-278 , "The Joys of Mary"; "The Blessings of Mary" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Creighton-Maritime, pp. 172-173, "The Blessings of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBB 105, "The Twelve Good Joys" (1 text)
OBC 70, "Joys Seven" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wells, pp. 200-201 "(no title)", pp. 201-202, "The Joys of Mary" (2 texts, 1 tune)
JHCox 135, "The Twelve Joys" (1 text)
BrownII 51, "The Twelve Blessings of Mary" (1 text)
BrownSchinhanIV 51, "The Twelve Blessings of Mary" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
Lomax-FSNA 123, "The Seven Blessings of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside, p. 262, "The Seven Joys of Mary" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 363, "The Seven Blessings of Mary" (1 text)
DT, SEVNJOYS* SEVNJOY2
ADDITIONAL: Jon Raven, _The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham_, Broadside, 1977, pp. 171-172, "The Seven Joys of Mary" (1 text)
Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, pp. 107-110, "Seacht Suailci Na Maighdine Muire" ("The Seven Beatitudes of the Virgin Mary") [Gaelic and English]
Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #76, "The First Good Joy that Mary Had" (1 text)
Bodleian, Douce adds. 137(19), "The Seven Joys," T. Bloomer (Birmingham), 1817-1827; also Harding B 7(34), Johnson Ballads 2833, Douce adds. 137(61), Harding B 7(28), Harding B 7(7), Harding B 7(66), Firth b.27(211), "The Seven Joys"; Harding B 7(65), Harding B 7(63), Harding B 7(30), "The Joys"
NOTES [1172 words]: The fullest collection of poems on Mary's joys known to me is Saupe's; on pp. 137-146, she has six pieces, although many of them clearly had no place in tradition. Ironically, none seems to be linked with this piece, or even to derive from similar sources.
The notion of counting Mary's joys apparently goes back to at least the fourteenth century, and the notion of her joys to the thirteenth. In the metrical tale "How the Psalter of Our Lady Was Made" (first found in MS. Digby 86, dated 1272-1283, and also in the Auchinleck manuscript of c. 1335), a monk was told to pray 150 aves a day; "The first fifty Aves were for joy at the annunciation that she should bear God-in-Man; the second fifty, that she should bear Christ; the third, that she should go to Him for bliss" (Wells, pp. 168-169).
As far as counting the joys goes, in the liturgical poem "Marie Moder, Wel Thee Be!" we find a reference to Mary's "joyes five" (poem known from some fifty texts. For full text see MS. Rawlinson liturgical g.2. or the printing as #46 in Stevick-100MEL). In the fifteenth century, there is a carol, "Of a rose, a lively rose, Of a rose I syng a song," which speaks of "five branchis of that rose"; see Greene, #47, pp. 108. Again, the poem "Hail be though, Mary, maiden bright" (Gottinggen University MS theol. 107r, folio 169a; cf. Celia and Kenneth Sisam, The Oxford Book of Medieval Engish Verse, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #82, p. 190) lists five joys. (Saupe, p. 27, suggests this is based on the five letters of the name "MARIA.")
The five joys are found in many other places; Greene, p. 221, quotes Brown as saying "English tradition down to the end of the fourteenth century uniformly recognized Five Joys of the Virgin, viz.: the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption, whereas on the Continent the number of Joys is regularly seven, through the addition of Epiphany and the Purification." Wells, p. 536 (entry on "The Five Joys of the Virgin") says that "The Joys vary in number, 5, 7, 8, 12, 15. In Middle English poetry (except in Harley 2253) they are five" (and goes on to list the same five as in Brown). He then lists eleven poems from the Middle Ages dealing with the Joys of Mary. His exceptional case, Harley 2253, still has five joys, but they are the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Epiphany, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Mary (not of Jesus).
Although Middle English texts fixed on five Joys, the variety in number is quite large. Post-medieval traditional texts have numbers as high as twelve, and French Books of Hours reportedly standardized on fifteen (see WEuropeanMSS, p. 100), I suspect the original of most of these songs had about seven -- not five and certainly not more. There are two reasons for this. We know that there were mentions of seven joys at least by the fifteenth century; a stained glass window of the reign of Edward IV (1461-1470 and 1471-1483) mentioned seven joys, although the window has now been destroyed and we do not know details. Mirk's Festial (c. 1400) and Fabyan's Chronicle also have seven joys, although a two pieces perhaps by Lydgate and from the fifteenth century mention fifteen (Wells, p. 538). It would be frankly typical of Lydgate to take an old idea and puff it up badly.
Another possible origin for the number seven is that there were considered to be seven woes of the Virgin Mary, to match her seven joys; these were mentioned in the Latin hymn "Summae, Deus, clementiae, Septem Dolores Virginia," and eventually even became part of a required canonical office.
The other reason I suspect the original of this song had no more than seven joys is that so many of the joys in the long texts are forced, even unbiblical. Nor do they match the somewhat abstract theological joys listed above. We can demonstrate this point by marching down the joys compiled in Brown and Cox:
One -- To think that her son Jesus Was God's eternal son: Luke 1:15
Two -- Could read the Bible through. Luke 2:46-47 shows Jesus, as a boy, discussing scripture, but it doesn't say he read it. It's likely enough that he could read, though; most Jewish children could, and Luke 4:17fff. shows him reading from Isaiah.
Three -- Could make the blind to see. Repeated references to this; the most primitive is perhaps in Mark 8:22-30.
Four -- Could turn the rich to poor. No known Biblical evidence of this. James 5:1 says "Your riches have rotted," and Jesus has warnings for the rich (e.g. the Wise Fool, Luke 12:16-21), but we don't see Jesus doing anything about it, unless it's a reference to cleansing the Temple (Mark 11:15-17, etc.)
Five -- Could make the dead alive. See, e.g., the raising of Lazarus, John 11.
Six: -- Brown (cf. Cox) "Heal the lame and sick." Numerous examples. But we also see "bear the crucifix," which is complicated. John says he bore his own cross (John 19:17), but the other gospels say Simon of Cyrene bore it (Mark 15:21, etc.)
Seven -- Carried the keys of heaven. Not biblical, and of course the issue of who will be saved is a controversial one. Peter eventually was regarded as having the keys of heaven.
Eight -- Brown: "Make the crooked straight. Cox: "Open the gates of heaven." Obviously an attempt to force an explanation
Nine -- Turn water to wine. The wedding at Cana, John 2.
Ten -- Brown: "Was a friend to sinful men." Compare the sinner washing Jesus's feet, Luke 7:37-50, etc. Cox: "Could write without a pen." Perhaps a reference to John 8:6 (a passage not found in the earliest manuscripts), but singularly inept in any case.
Eleven -- Could open the gates of heaven. Haven't we been here before?
Twelve -- Brown: "Came down to earth to dwell." Basic doctrine. Cox: "Done all things well." Allusion to Mark 7:37 or parallel.
It is interesting and difficult to decide how old this song is. The modern form clearly goes back at least to Sandys. That there were medieval songs of joys is also clear. What is tricky is a fifteenth century carol found in Bodleian, MS. Eng. Poet e.1 and reprinted in Greene (#51, pp. 111-112), with a similar text in the Richard Hill manuscript, Bodleian MS. 354, and at least one other.
The burden is Latin ("A, a, a, a, Gaude celi domina"), as are the tags at the ends of the verses ("Tua quinque gaudia," "Ave, plena gracia," "Enixa est puerpera," etc.). The first verse begins, "Mary for the love of the(e)." But then it goes off into a five joys format: "The fyrste joy that came to the, Was whan the aungel greted the(e) And sayd, 'Mary, ful of charyte....'" Same song? Hard to tell unless we find some intermediate versions.... - RBW
The Bell/O Conchubhair melody is not the one I know but O Conchubhair's notes make the connection. Here the seven joys are (1) That she bore Him in a lowly byre (2) That she travelled with Him along the road (3) That He'd gone by reading His book (4) When he turned the water into wine (5) When He made the dead to live (6) When He redeemed the world with his blood (7) When He raised her to heaven alive. - BS
Last updated in version 4.3
- Greene: Richard Greene, editor, A Selection of English Carols, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962
- Laynesmith: J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503, Oxford, 2004 (I use the 2005 paperback edition)
- Karen Saupe, editor, Middle English Marian Lyrics, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1998, #58, pp. 120, "(Ave Maris Stella)" (1 text, from British Library MS. Sloane 2593)
- Wells: John Edwin Wells, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1400, 1916 (references are to the 1930 fifth printing with three supplements)
- WEuropeanMSS: [Tamara Voronova and Andrei Sterligov], Western European Illuminated Manuscripts, 8th to 16th centuries, English version, Sirrocco, 2006
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.