Advent Calendar Day 18: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging (Maria walks amid the thorn)

For our third day in our Advent Rose week, we return to Germany with another traditional carol, this time featuring roses neither as symbols or Mary or of Jesus, but as a miraculous response to Mary walking through a field of thorns while pregnant with Jesus.  This carol dates from the 15th century or earlier, and I haven’t been able to discern whether this is just the text or the melody too.  I suspect it is both, because it does have a bit of an Early Music sound to it.

The lyrics are definitely medieval – you can see them if you click through to the recording by the Short Tailed Snails below, and I’ve put my (probably dubious, but better than some I’ve found online) translation below.

I really like the simplicity of this version of the carol, with its open fifths that add to the medieval effect, but if you’d like a more fully-realised choral version, the Thomanerchor (a boy’s choir founded in 1212, who may well have been singing this music since the day it was first composed) have a rather lovely recording of it from 1980.

Mary walked through a forest of thorns
Kyrie eleison
Mary walked through a forest of thorns
That for seven years had borne no leaf
Jesus and Mary

What did Mary carry under her heart?
Kyrie eleison.
A tiny little child without pain
That is what Mary carried under her heart.
Jesus and Mary

The thorns bore roses there,
Kyrie eleison.
Where the little child was carried through the forest,
There the thorns bore roses.
Jesus and Mary

The original carol goes on for an extra three verses after the three which are sung in these recordings, and indeed, in most recent recordings, and these verses cover John the Baptist, and a brief catechism about who Jesus is and how he sets us free from sin.  Given how thematically different they are from the first three verses, I strongly suspect someone else added them on later, to make the song sound a bit more holy.  Personally, I think the carol is better without them.


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