Gaudete! Festum Asinorum!

“Toppling of the Pagan Idols (The Flight into Egypt): Isaiah 19:1, Pseudo-Matthew 22-23” (1423) by the Bedford Master

January 14 marks the old medieval “Feast of Asses” (“Festum Asinorum“), now an obscure and abandoned observance that, among other things, commemorated the flight into Egypt. It was part of the greater medieval Feast of Fools, which fell out of observance by the 15th Century. But it did give us a particular carol tune that you will no-doubt recognize, “Orientis Partibus“:

The Latin lyrics (while not quite the same as those in the above videos–kind of a conglomeration of the two) are as below. I offer a somewhat free translation from the Latin on my part (with thanks to the resources linked at The Hymns and Carols of Christmas for inspiration):

Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus,
Sarcinis aptissimus.

     Hez, Sir Asnes, hez!

Hic in collibus Sychen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Jordanem
saliit in Bethlehem

Saltu vincit hinnulos
damas et capreolos
super dromedarios
velox madianeos

Aurum de Arabia
thus et myrrham de Saba
tulit in ecclesia
virtus asinaria

Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula

Cum aristis, hordeum
comedit et carduum
triticum ex palea
segregat in area

Amen dicas, asine
Iam satur ex gramine
amen, amen itera
aspernare vetera
From Eastern parts
A donkey came,
Strongest and handsome,
Best for burdens.

Hey, Sir Ass, hey!

Here among the hills of Schechem
Now nursed below the Red Sea,
He went across the Jordan,
Bounded into Bethlehem.

In leaping, he beats the mules,
Fallow deer, and roes.
He is above the camels,
The swift Median camels.

Gold from Arabia,
Incense and myrrh from Saba,
brought among the congregation.

While he drags carts
With many a little bundle,
This donkey’s jaws
Grind tough food.

He devours barley,
awns-and-all, and thistles;
He separates the wheat from the chaff
On the threshing floor.

Say amen, Ass,
Now full of grass!
Amen, amen, again
To spurn old things.

Read more about the Feast of Asses here!

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