In Bethlehem, that Fair City

DESCRIPTION: "In Bethlehem, in that fair city, A child was born of our Lady, Lord and prince that he should be." Many children were slain by Herod. Jesus shone even in Mary's body. "To bli God bring us all and some, Christe redemptor omnium."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1537 (Richard Hill MS., Balliol Coll. Oxf. 354, folio 165b)
KEYWORDS: religious childbirth death MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Dearmer/VaughnWilliams/Shaw-OxfordBookOfCarols 120, "In Bethehem, That Fair City (1 text, 1 tune, very much modified)
Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols, #21, pp. 14-16, "(no title)" (4 texts)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 50, 183-184,"To bliss God bring us all and some" (2 texts)
Sidgwick/Chambers-EarlyEnglishLyrics LXXIV, p. 138, "(no title)" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #1471
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #2481
ADDITIONAL: Roman Dyboski, _Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book_, Kegan Paul, 1907 (there are now multiple print-on-demand reprints), #22, p. 12 "To Blys God Bryng us all & sum" (1 text)
Richard Greene, editor, _A Selection of English Carols_, Clarendon Mdieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #8, p. 61, "(To blis God bryng us all and su)" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSRichardHill}, The Richard Hill Manuscript, Oxford, Balliol College MS. 354, folio 222
MANUSCRIPT: {MSEngPoetE1}, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. Poet. e.1 (Bodley 29734), folio 35
MANUSCRIPT: {MSCamTrinityO.3.58}, Cambridge, Trinity College MS. O.3.58, folio 1
MANUSCRIPT: Cambridge, University Library MS. Ee.1.12 [The James Ryman manuscript, 1492], folio 35
MANUSCRIPT: London, British Library, MS. Additional 31042 [the London Thornton Manuscript], folio 94 (a 1-verse fragment, probably this)
MANUSCRIPT: Oxford, Lincoln College MS. Lat 141, folio 3

ST MSIBitFC (Partial)
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "The Coventry Carol" (subject of the Massacre of the Innocents) and references there
NOTES [446 words]: The Massacre of the Innocents, briefly alluded to here, is the subject of Matthew 2:1-18; for more background, see the notes to "The Innocents."
According to the notes in Greene, p. 357, "Of all the figures of speech which the Middle Ages applied to the Virgin Mary none is more prominent in the carols than the simile which likens the action of the Holy Spirit in causing her to conceive to the sun's shining on a glass, which penetrates it without injuring" -- a comparison going back to Augustine of Hippo
There is no proof that this piece is traditional, but there is good evidence that it was at least somewhat popular. The first is its inclusion in the Hill manuscript, which includes some folk pieces., and in Bodleian MS. Eng. poet e.1, which is thought to date from the fifteenth century and includes many popular pieces. And there are two other manuscript copies, Cambridge University MS. Ee.1.12 and Cambridge, Trinity College MS.O.3.58 (1230) -- the latter two having music, though apparently not the tune used by the Oxford Book of Carols. So this is definitely a song, not a poem, and there is fair reason to think it went into oral tradition.
Chambers, p. 96, has this to say of Cambridge MS. Ee.1.12: it is associated with "James Ryman, a Franciscan, whose house is unknown. Most of the manuscript is written by a scribe, and apparently corrected bythe author. Then comes a colophon, dated in 1492, 'Explicit liber ympnorum et canticorum, quem composuit frater Iacobus Ryman ordinis minorum'. The rest may be in Ryman's own hand.... In all, the collection contains 166 English and Latin items, of which 119 are English carols. As Dr. Greene points out, these amount to a quarter of the total number of carols surviving from dates up to 1550."
Chambers adds on p. 97 that Ryman's work is pedestrian and littered with favorite phrases: "he repeats himself indefinitely."
But very little of James (or Jacob) Ryman's work gives any hint of being traditional, or indeed of having circulated outside his one manuscript.
Which raises the question of whether this is by Ryman. Greene doubted it; so do I, given that Bodleian MS. Eng. poet e.1 very possibly precedes his earliest activity; even the Hill manuscript is only slightly later. Note that this is on folio 1 of the Ryman manuscript; it looks like an older outside carol slipped into his volume. Chambers, p. 97, admits the possibility, while pointing out that "it contains one of Ryman's favourite phrases." But this might be why it was slipped into the Ryman corpus!
For more about the famous anthology Bodleian MS. Eng. Poet. e.1 (Bodleian 29734), see the notes to "The Golden Carol (The Three Kings)." - RBW
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