Sunday, 3 January 2016

‘Open you the East Door,
and let the New Year in’

‘Open you the East Door, and let the New Year in’ … looking east along the River Liffey in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

We ushered in the New Year at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning [3 January 2016].

The Revd Garth Burning presided at the Eucharist, Canon John Bartlett served as deacon, and I served the liturgy as sub-deacon, assisting at the administration of the Holy Communion, and Canon Mark Gardner preached.

The setting, the Plainsong Missa Ordis Factor, was sung by a Consort of the Cathedral Choir.

The Communion Motet on this first Sunday of the new year was, appropriately, Benjamin Britten’s setting of Levy-Dew, also known as ‘A New Year Carol.’

This folk song is of Welsh origin and traditionally sung at the New Year. It is associated with a New Year’s Day custom of sprinkling people with water newly drawn from a well. One variation of this traditional folk song appeared in Walter de la Mare’s Tom Tiddler’s Ground, an anthology of verse for children. Benjamin Britten set this version of the song to music as ‘A New Year Carol’ in 1934.

The song is associated with Pembrokeshire, where it figures in a New Year's Day custom in which children collect fresh water from a well and go around with a sprig from an evergreen tree, sprinkling the faces of passers-by with the water while singing the carol and begging for food or money.

In other parts of Wales, the custom is known as dwr newy or ‘new water’ and the water is also used to sprinkle the rooms and doors of houses.

According to Trefor Owen, in Welsh Folk Customs (1974), the song preserves ‘an early well cult made acceptable in mediaeval Christianity through its association with the Virgin Mary.

The meaning of the words levy dew in the original lyrics is not known for certain. One theory says the words come from the Welsh phrase llef y Dduw, ‘a cry to God.’

Others link these words with the Middle English levedy (‘lady’) or the French phrase levez à Dieu, “raise to God,” which may refer to the elevation of the Host during the liturgy, followed by the elevation of the chalice. The ‘seven bright gold wires’ might be the strings of a golden harp or the candles on the altar at the High Mass.

Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
for to worship God with, this happy New Year.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her toe,
open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her chin,
open you the East Door, and let the New Year in.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Later, I went for a walk through Temple Bar and by the banks of the River Liffey. The water of the River Lieffey at this point could hardly be described as ‘new water from the well so clear.’ But the sky was clear and in sharp contrast with the rain-filled days we have had for the last few weeks.

‘Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go’ … looking west along the River Liffey in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (11):
‘The truth from above’

The Christmas scene in a window in Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing my Christmas reflections, listening to the works of the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). This morning [3 January 2016], I am listening to the Choir of Somerville College, Oxford, singing ‘The truth sent from above.’

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral sang this carol at the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols before Christmas [21 December 2015] and as the Communion Motet at the Sung Eucharist in the Cathedral last Sunday [27 December 2015].

‘The truth sent from above’ is an English folk carol of unknown authorship usually performed at Christmas. It was collected in the early 20th century by English folk song collectors in Shropshire and Herefordshire. A number of variations on the tune exist, but the text remains broadly similar.

Cecil Sharp collected an eight stanza version of the carol from a Mr Seth Vandrell and Mr Samuel Bradley of Donninglon Wood in Shropshire, although Sharp notes that there was a longer version existed in a locally-printed carol book.

Vaughan Williams collected a different, Dorian mode version of the carol at King’s Pyon, Herefordshire, in July 1909 from Mrs Ella Leather, a folk singer who had learnt the carol through the oral tradition.

This version is sometimes known as the Herefordshire Carol. Vaughan Williams first published the melody in the Folk-Song Society Journal in 1909, although there it is instead credited as being sung by a Mr W Jenkins of King’s Pyon.

Vaughan Williams later used this carol to open his Fantasia on Christmas Carols in 1912. Gerald Finzi, with permission from Vaughan Williams and Ella Leather, also used the melody as the basis of his 1925 choral work The Brightness of This Day, substituting the text for a poem by George Herbert.

In this recording by the Choir of Somerville College, Stephen O’Driscoll is the baritone, and David Crown is the conductor.



This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love;
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all both rich and poor.

The first thing that I do relate,
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell:
Woman was made with man to dwell.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
’til God the Lord did interpose
And so a promise soon did run
That He would redeem us by his Son.

And at this season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
and if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Tomorrow:The First Nowell.’