Advent Calendar Day 3 – Adam Lay Y Bounden

It’s not advent without Adam Lay Y Bounden.  This has been a favourite carol of mine for a long time, particularly the version by Boris Ord, with that gorgeous soaring ‘Deo Gracias’ at the end of it.

Admittedly, my initial delight in the carol came from the delightful seeming-illogic of lyrics:

“Adam lay y bounden, bounden in a bond
Four thousand winter thought he not to long
And all for an apple, an apple that he took
As clerkes finden written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been, the apple taken been
Ne had never Our Lady had been Heavene Queen
Blessed be the time that apple taken was
Therefore we moun singen “Deo Gracias”

Which, abridged, seems to mean “What a good thing that our forebears sinned, because without that, we would never have had Jesus.”  (I’ve seen a similar sentiment expressed rather more crudely in graffiti, but I’m not going to share that here.)

Anyway, giggling choristers aside, I’m informed that this isn’t just the kind of theology you get when the Bible is only available in Latin and your local non-Latin-reading peasantry decides to write songs about it anyway (but stay tuned for that sort of theology later in December), but is actually really explaining the idea that “Sin has separated us from God, but grace has brought us nearer to God than we ever were before sin divided us from him.” (From a sermon by Spurgeon, with thanks to my friend Virginia)

(A little part of me strongly suspects that Spurgeon was just trying to deal with the thoroughly ingrained terrible Adam Lay Y Bounden logic as best he could – and doing so really quite admirably – but that is probably just me being a wicked and frivolous person).

OK, that’s far more theology than anyone really needs at this hour of the morning, so to compensate, you are getting not one, but TWO settings of these lyrics!

I was looking for the Boris Ord played at a more decorous speed than that favoured by King’s College, when I found this lovely performance of both the Ord and the Ireland settings.  I didn’t even know that Ireland had written a setting of this, so that’s another delightful YouTube discovery.  I think I still prefer Ord, but I love having both of them to choose from.

If this is all way too serious and classical for you, you’ll be glad to know that several contemporary Medieval-themed bands have had a good play with this song too.  The Mediaeval Baebes have a very simple unison version that has somewhat ear-wormy properties, and the German group, Faun, have a gloriously bouncy version with the verses mixed up in a manner that completely clouds any theological argument at all, but is nonetheless good fun to listen to.  Enjoy!

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