Seven Virgins, The (The Leaves of Life)
DESCRIPTION: The singer, (Thomas), meets seven virgins, including the Virgin Mary. They are seeking Jesus, who is being crucified. Mary asks Jesus why he must suffer so; Jesus tells her it is for the sake of humanity. He dies. The singer commends God's charity
EARLIEST DATE: 1847
KEYWORDS: Bible Jesus religious dialog
FOUND IN: Britain(England(West))
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Leather-FolkLoreOfHerefordshire, pp. 187-188, "The Seven Virgin, or, Under the Leaves" (1 text plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
Hamer-GarnersGay, p. 57, "Under the Leaves (The Seven Virgins)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 145-146, "All Under the Leaves, and the Leaves of Life" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 111, "The Seven Virgins" (1 text)
Dearmer/VaughnWilliams/Shaw-OxfordBookOfCarols 43, "The Seven Virgins" (1 text, 1 tune)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 4, "The Seven Virgins" (1 text)
DT, SVNVIRG SVNVRG2
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #479, "The Seven Virgins" (1 text)
Bob Stewart, _Where Is Saint George? Pagan Imagery in English Folksong_, revised edition, Blandford, 1988, pp. 123-124, "The Leaves of Life" (1 text)
May Bradley, "Under the Leaves" (on Voice11)
cf. "Tam Lin" [Child 39] (tune)
NOTES [530 words]: The idea behind this song is very old, although the song may be relatively recent in the form we know it. Greene, p. 24 n. 4, observes, "Only here and there can as much as a whole line of modern traditional song be recognized as actually surviving from a medieval carol. One striking example is the second line of the couplet burden of [Greene, The Early English Carols] No. 193, a lament of Mary over her crucified son:
For to se my dere Son dye, and sones have I no mo.
Greene also notes a similar Manx text from 1924.
This line of the song is based on the legend that Mary was a perpetual version; Matthew 13:55 lists Jesus as having brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas; Mark 6:3 lists brothers James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. There are repeated references in Acts to James, the Lord's brother. InterpretersDict, volume II, p. 791, states, "The relationship between James and Jesus has been much discussed.... NT and early Christian writers refer to James as a 'brother' of Jesus, and the natural interpretation of the language of that period is the literal one, that James was a son of Joseph and Mary, younger than Jesus. Though this view was rejected by most of the ancient church, it is probably correct. Belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary led to the development of the view that Jesus and James were foster brothers," with James being the son of Joseph by a previous marriage.
The details here are generally from the Gospel of John. Only in John is Mary explicitly present at the cross, and John is the only gospel in which Thomas has a speaking role (though he was popular in the Apocryphal Gospels). Jesus's last words ("sweet mother, now I die," or similar) are perhaps closer to the fourth gospel ("it has been finished/completed/perfected," 19:30) than any of the other gospels.
In addition, Jesus's instruction to his mother to take John as her son is found only in the fourth gospel (John 19:26-27, though in fact the disciple involved is not named there; in fact, John is not even mentioned in the fourth gospel, though he is widely believed to be the "beloved disciple" referred to in chapter 19; Brown1, pp. xciii-cii).
One might note that there was a legend, based on a complicated analysis of the names of the women at the foot of the cross in the various gospels, that John and his brother James were Mary's nephews and Jesus's first cousins (Brown2, pp. 904-907; InterpretersDict, Volume II, p. 791, etc).
Some versions contain a line, "Oh the rose, the gentle rose, The fennel it grows so strong...." Binney, p. 107, reports that "The seeds of fennel, dill, and caraway... all contain natural oils that help soothe spasms in the intestine.... Bitter fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), whose seeds taste rather like celery, was considered sacred by the Greeks. They believes that the TItan Prometheus had hidden fire in the hollow stalks of the fennel plant in order to steal it from the gods and bring it to humans."
Another possibly 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." - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Binney: Ruth Binney, Nature's Way: lore, legend, fact and fiction, David and Charles, 2006
- Brown1: Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, being volume 29 of the Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1966
- Brown2: Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, being volume 29A of the Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1970
- Greene: Richard Greene, editor, A Selection of English Carols, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962
- InterpretersDict: [George Arthur Buttrick et al, editor], The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, four volumes, 1962 (a fifth supplementary volume was published later)
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