John Speller's Web Pages Sans Day Carol

John Speller's Web Pages - Cornish Carols
Sans Day Carol
The Church Music section of my website is generally reserved for little-known but interesting music which is generally not available easily elsewhere. The "Sans Day Carol" is an exception in being a well known carol, especially in John Rutter's version, composed in 1969, largely as a means of finding a use for the Larigot stop of the organ, which would otherwise have been redundant. I am particularly interested in it for two reasons. First as part of a general interest in Cornish carols, and also because it has an extremely interesting history.

A medieval chapelry dedicated to the Holy Trinity in the Parish of Gwennac near Penzance in Cornwall stood in the village of St. Day, named after a Breton saint, and was a major stop on the medieval pilgrimage route between Canterbury and St. Michael's Mount. This was in ruins by the eighteenth century and was replaced by a new church in the early nineteenth century. It was here in the early 1900s that W. D. Watson, the Borough of Penzance's Head Gardener, who lived in the park-keepers house in Morrab Garden's, Penzance, collected the carol from a man of around firty or sixty years, named Thomas Beard. A wax cylinder recording exists in Sheffield University Library of Mr. Watson singing it himself. Mr. Watson had learnt Cornish from his mother, Mrs. C. Watson of Mylor, and was a keen collector of Cornish folklore and matters pertaining to the Cornish language. He was the first to collect the Lord's Prayer in Cornish which has since been displayed many Cornish churches. As received by Mr. Watson the carol consisted of only three verses, though it is clear that there would almost certainly have been a verse about red berries, since this is the commonest color, though all the other colors of holly berries mentioned in the carol do actually exist as variations in nature. Mr. Watson translated the carol into Cornish, thinking perhaps that this had been its original language, and added a fourth verse, resulting in the following:

Ma grun war'n gelynen, ga lyu-y lethwyn
Ha Jesu o maylyes Yn dylias owrlyn

Ha Mam o an Maghteth, Marya Mam Dew,
Ha gwedhen an gwella, an gelynen yu
Kelyn, Kelyn,
Ha gwedhen an gwella an gelynen yu.


Ma grun war'n gelynen, 'ga lu yu gwelswer
Ha Jesu o crowsjs, Y vam yn awer

Ma grun war'n gelynan, ga lyu yu gosruth
Jesus 'gan Sylw'as; vernans mar druth.

Ma grun war'n gelynan, 'ga lyu yu glowdhu
Ha Jesus o marow; dredho nu a vew

Mr. Watson communicated the carol to the Rev. Canon Gilbert Hunter Doble (18801945) who was Vicar of Wendron and a noted authority on Cornish history and folklore. Canon Doble translated and altered Mr. Watkins version of the last verse, and the carol was duly published in the form below in 1929.

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Postcard view of Morrab Gardens, Penzance, in around 1910
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