Rachel's lament for her children

The Waverly Consort performs at the Cloisters every Christmas season, and a kind friend sees to it that we have tickets to one of the performances. We went yesterday afternoon, and we made sure to arrive early enough to walk around to get into a receptive mood.
The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, although not located anywhere near the Met if you're planning a visit. Here's a link to the Cloisters' official site, which will give you more information. Lots more.
Anyway, we drove uptown, the parking deities favored us, and we had a lovely wander before entering the chapel where the concert was to take place.
Perhaps the best known of the treasures housed at the Cloisters is a series of tapestries known as the Unicorn Tapestries.
The tapestries in turn are known, among other things, for their wonderful attention to detail. 
Look at the millefleurs background:

Some of the large candlesticks were decorated for Christmas, some weren't, and at least one didn't need any more decoration.


And then we filed in and took our seats for the concert, which was a performance of a centuries-old re-telling of the Christmas story, in sung narrative and carols. Unlike jolly school plays and church pageants, though, this play ends with the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the last principal song was a desolate and chilling soprano solo: Rachel's Lament For  Her Children. The song was in Latin, here is a translation of the first verse.
Alas, little babes,
such savage wounds we see!
Alas, sweet children,
slaughtered, butchered in madness.
Alas, neither pity
nor tender age could save you.
Alas, wretched mothers,
can we know what we behold here?
What, then, within us
can bear such deeds?
Alas, our memories
only double grief!
No more can we know joy:
our gifts of love have perished.
Noone could have seen this coming: the audience was overwhelmed. Tears, heads bowed into handkerchiefs, sobs, gasps. That song was written in the 12th century; it could have been written yesterday. The play ends with a Te Deum (hymn of triumph and gratitude), but Rachel's Lament will stay with us.

Great is the anguish of my soul;
my heart is troubled within me.

11 comments:

  1. I was reading a book this morning that mentioned that the Feast of the Holy Innocents was December 28th. I don't belong to a church that recognizes it as a holy day, but I don't think I'll ever be able to let the date pass again without remembering December 14th 2012.

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  2. Thank you Fred. I have been thinking about the slaughter of the innocents all weekend. I have not yet been to the cloisters, but it appears to me to be a peaceful place. We certainly all need solace these days; everyone I chat with feels sad and helpless.

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  3. Please may this act of a troubled soul lead us into the light. Please try to hold thoughts in your hearts for the actor and his family as well. We continue to shutter those in pain behind doors. May we find a way to open those doors and let in the light.

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  4. The Cloisters is a potently spiritual place. Thank you for the photos and the stunning program.

    " Jesus wept".

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  5. What a beautiful place -- and what a haunting recitation...

    Pearl

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  6. Oh Fred. Thank you for sharing this with us, what a moment that must have been.

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  7. I would have been undone. Thank you for sharing the translation and your lovely photos.

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  8. What haunting, beautiful and such tragic words, slaughter of the innocents.

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  9. WFF thank you for sharing this.

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  10. How eerie and stunning. Thank you for a beautiful and moving post.

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  11. That has stopped me in my tracks. So moving and so profound.

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