Thursday, December 18, 2008
Back in the days of Brigg Grammar School (pre-1976), pupils and staff marked the end of the autumn term by singing the carol O Come All Ye Faithful...in Latin!
The school would then be dismissed from its massed assembly for the Christmas holidays by headmaster H B Williams.
Latin was still being taught at the school - useful to those going into the medical profession - and O Come All Ye Faithful translated as Adeste Fideles.
For those of us less proficient in the classic tongue, a printed copy of the carol's translation was given to each boy when he began in the first year. This had to be stuck into the back inside cover of the green school hymn book and last you for the next seven years!
However, new information has now come to light about Adeste Fideles, which might raise a few eyebrows among older Briggensians, particularly those with keen interests in religion and history.
For according to one musical expert, O Come All Ye Faithful, also called Adeste Fideles, is actually a birth ode to Jacobite pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Born shortly before Christmas on December 20 1720, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the grandson of England’s last Catholic monarch, James II.
He was born in exile in Italy and became the focus for Catholic Jacobite rebels intent on restoring the House of Stuart to the English throne.
In 1745, he raised an army to invade the British Isles, taking Edinburgh, but was defeated at the Battle of Culloden on April 16 1746.
Professor Bennett Zon, head of the department of music at Durham University, unearthed clear references to the Prince in the carol’s lyrics, written by 18th century music scribe, John Francis Wade.
"There is far more to this beloved song than meets the eye,” he said. "Fideles is Faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and Regem Angelorum is a well-known pun on Angelorum, angels, and Anglorum, English.
"The meaning of the Christmas carol is clear: ’Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels’ really means, ’Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English’ - Bonnie Prince Charlie!"
Prof Zon said there were other clues to the subversive political message contained in the carol. "In its earliest forms, from the 1740s to 1770s, Adeste Fideles is often found next to, or physically very near, prayers for the exiled monarch," he said.
"And in John Francis Wade’s books it and other liturgical texts with ’hidden’ Jacobite meaning are often strewn - even laden - with Jacobite floral imagery. ”
One of the books containing the carol even contains a colourful picture of the exiled monarch, as well as a Jacobite cryptogram in Latin on its title page.
"When deciphered it gives a very clear sense of its Jacobite connections," Prof Zon said.
The Jacobite meaning of the carol gradually faded as the cause lost its grip on popular consciousness.
"Adeste Fideles seems to have lost its Jacobite meanings not long after Wade’s last published book in 1773," he said. "The real meaning of the Carol, remains, however, although whose birth we choose to celebrate in it remains a matter of personal decision."
Brigg Grammar was founded in 1669, and so was well-established by the time Bonnie Prince Charlie came to prominence.
But does anyone know when the tradition for singing Adeste Fideles at the pre-Christmas assembly was established at BGS?
Our picture was taken in 1969, during my time at the school, when singing Adeste Fideles was an annual ritual at this time of year. It shows French master Vernon Atkin (left) chatting to maths specialist Harold Stinson. Both were strong singers during school assemblies, particularly Harold who used to sing the bass part of the tunes. Or that's what it sounded like.