O Little Liturgical Candle of Syracuse

This Christmas eve at church, I looked down in my hand and realized something. For virtually every single Christmas Eve in my 49 years, wherever I was, in whatever church I was, I was handed exactly this: a small white candle with a paper guard that read “Candlelight Service: Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co. Syracuse, N.Y.” And the candle that I have been handed every year is exactly the same, and so is the printing on the paper guard.

The Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co., Syracuse, N.Y.
The Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co., Syracuse, N.Y.

In Christian churches all over the USA and probably farther afield than that, on Christmas eve, congregants get handed these little candles, which they light one by one from a central flame while singing “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) until everyone is singing in a dark sanctuary lit only by these candles. That must be many millions of candles over the many decades of the tradition.

The moment I was contemplating this, last night, I remarked aloud, “Who are the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company of Syracuse, New York?” and immediately, right in front of me, was a couple who are almost 80 years old, who happily told me that they both grew up in Syracuse, and that they have seen the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company factory many times. It is at least a hundred years old, they told me. Apparently, when they built the interstate highway through Syracuse, they built a ramp for it, leaving the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company factory undisturbed.

What a strange and wonderful business they must have. I assume they sell something other than these millions and millions of completely identical and disposable small white candles which are only used one night of the year, every year. But the fact that the design of the candles and even the Spartan artwork on the paper guards has essentially never changed — that means that they must have found themselves a niche and held onto it for dear life for a century.

Then there’s the name. “Muench” and “Kreuzer” are proper surnames for German-American immigrants. “Muench” means “monk”, and “Kreuzer” means “crusader”, and comes from the same German root word as the word for “cross”. So it’s the Monk-Cross liturgical candle company. That worked out well.

I have deliberately not Googled the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co. of Syracuse, N. Y. before writing this reverie. Now maybe I will.

Don’t spill hot wax down your hand and arm next Christmas eve. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Added December 29, 2013

Sadly, the era has already ended. I came across a newspaper article from April, 2012 that says that the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company, started in 1925, shut down its Syracuse factory, and the article implied but did not explicitly state that the company was out of business. The factory building in Syracuse was sold, and was to be renovated for loft apartments, although they promised to keep the historical exterior.

One of Syracuse’s last candle factories to become apartments

A further chronicaling of the decline of the company is found in another article from the same Syracuse newspaper dated May 10, 2010.

Syracuse candle company laying off up to 38 of its 46 workers

Cecilia McDowall’s “Christus Natus Est” in English Translation

In recent years, as I’ve learned another major sacred choral work and performed it, I’ve done my own study of translating the lyrics (usually from Latin) into English, and researching the source of the texts and Bible verses used as source material. As I’ve come up with each one, I’ve posted it here on my blog.

In the past few years, this has lead to my being contacted by musicians and music directors all over the world, and I’ve made some friends!

Here is my latest installment. If you would like to make use of, or reprint my work, please do me the courtesy of sending me an email first, asking for permission, and telling me how you will use it. Please introduce yourself and tell me about you, where you live, and about the choir you are working with. I look forward to hearing from you.

And in this case, my Latin and French are not the best or the most correct. If you have expertise in these languages and would like to send me corrections or suggestions for improvement, I would welcome them.

Copyright © 2013 by Wheat Williams. All rights reserved.

This season I’m preparing to sing in a production that includes Cecilia McDowall’s 2007 suite of ancient Christmas songs, Christus Natus Est. (Oxford University Press)

I have prepared a study of English translations of the texts she chose:

  • Personent Hodie (Latin, from Prague and Germany, 1300s)
  • Entre le bœuf (French, 1600s)
  • Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus (Latin, from Finland and Sweden, 1500s)
  • Infant holy, infant lowly (originally Polish, 1600s, presented by McDowall in English translation after Edith M. G. Reed)
  • Angelus ad Virginem (Latin, from France, 1200s)

The published and copyrighted sheet music for Christus Natus Est contains English rhyming translations of the text for use if a choir performs the piece in English. However, these settings are not literal, word-for-word translations of the original Latin and French.

I have endeavored to make a literal translation of the texts for the purposes of study by choral singers who want to understand the meaning of each line and phrase, and to identify the important words in each phrase so that they can better understand how to sing the text expressively.  My inelegant translations are not “singable”. As I have stated in previous posts, I have no formal training in Latin.

Personent Hodie

Latin  English translation
1. Personent hodie,
voces puerulae,
laudantes iucunde
qui nobis est natus,
summo Deo datus,
et de virgineo ventre procreatus.
1. Resound today
voices of children
praising pleasantly
Who to us is born
supreme God, given
and of a virgin born.
2. In mundo nascitur,
pannis involvitur;
praesepi ponitur
stabulo brutorum,
rector supernorum.
Perdidit spolia princeps infernorum.
2. Born into the world,
in swaddling clothes wrapped
Stable brutes
Straight above
Lost and spoiled is the prince of Hell.
3. Magi tres venerunt,
munera offerunt,
parvulum inquirunt,
stellulam sequendo,
ipsum adorando.
Aurum thus et myrrham ei offerendo.
 3. Wise-men three came
Gifts they offer
the little star following
him worshiping
Gold, frankincense and myrrh to him offering
4. Omnes clericuli,
pariter pueri,
cantent ut angeli:
adventisti mundo,
laudes tibi fundo.
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo.
4. All clergy,
children together
as sing the angels
the arrival of the world
praise you from the foundation.
So glory in the highest to God.

Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris

French English translation
1. Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris,
Dorts le petit fils.
1. Between the ox and the grey donkey
Sleeps the small Son.
Mille anges divins,
mille séraphins,
Volent à l’entour de ce grand Dieu d’amour.
A thousand angels divine,
a thousand seraphim
Flying around the great God of love
2. Entre les deux bras de Marie
Dorts le fruit de la Vie
 2. Between the two arms of Mary
sleeps the Fruit of Life
3. Entre les roses, et les lys
Dorts le petit Fils
3. Between the roses and the lillies
Sleeps the small Son.
4. Entre les pastoureaux jolis,
Dorts le petit fils.
4. Between the beautiful shepherds
Sleeps the small Son.
 5. En ce beau jour solennel,
Dorts l’Emmanuel.
5. In this beautiful solemn day,
Sleep, Emmanuel.

Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus

Latin English translation
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary, rejoice!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
The time of grace has come
that which we desire,
songs of joy
let us devoutly return.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God a man is made
Wonder of Nature,
The world is restored
By Christ’s reign.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
Ezekiel’s gate
closed, is passed through,
Hence, light has risen,
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra concio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore our gathering
Play already our plan
Bless the Lord:
The salvation of our King is ours.

Infant holy, infant lowly

1. Infant holy, infant lowly
For his bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging, angels singing,
Nowells ringing, tidings bringing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
2. Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil ‘til the morning new,
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow;
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Angelus ad virginem

Latin English translation
1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinem.
1. The angel to the virgin
crept into the room.
The virgin was in fear.
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Coeli terraeque dominum.
Et paries
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medela criminum.
He said to her, “Hail”.
Hail the Queen of virgins,
Of heavens and earth the master.
You shall conceive,
A wall
the Salvation of men.
You the gate of heaven made
Healing sins.
2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?
How shall I conceive,
seeing that a man I do not know?
How shall make such an infraction,
I who made a vow with my mind firm?
Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timeas,
sed gaudeas,
quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia.
The Spirit’s holy grace
will bring all this;
Fear not
But rejoice
and safe
that chastity
will remain pure
in God’s power.
3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
To these words the virgin noble
answered to him;
Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio
Et cupiens
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio.
The handmaiden am I, humble,
Of All-powerful God.
By your heavenly announcement
I am of such secrets made aware
I am in agreement
And I want
To see
that done, that I hear.
I am ready to obey
God’s will.
4. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuum exora filium.
Ut se nobis propitium
Et deleat
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beata
Post hoc exsilium.
4. Come, mother of the Lord
Who has peace restored
To angels and mankind,
When Christ you bore;
Pray your Son
to be good to us
Let Him show,
And wash away
Giving help
Life to enjoy
After this exile.