As we are gearing up for Advent, we almost can’t wait to become reaquainted with some of our favorite hymns and carols. Many of them focus on the swaddled babe or the journey to the manger, but this piece, “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging” (Maria walks amid the thorns), is about the trip Mary made to her cousin, Elizabeth.
While it is not taken directly from the Bible, it is a pleasant imagining of Mary’s journey, and something of a metaphor, too, that this most blessed of women would also be so pierced by sorrow.
As the Gospel of Luke tells us in 1:39, Mary went to visit Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation, when an angel appeared to her prophesizing her virgin pregnancy. “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging” would take place in the space between Luke 1:39 and 1:40, during her travel.
Remember, Mary lived in Nazareth, while Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah (it is not clear exactly which town). Even the closest city, Hebron, south of Jerusalem, would have been about 81 miles as the crow flies and would be closer to 120 miles by road. That trip could have taken her a month to make.
The lyrics speaks of a thornwood, which had been dead for 7 years, springing to life again as Mary walked past while carrying Jesus below her heart. We especially like the way each verse is accented by a strong “Kyrie eleison!” With three verses, the Kyries mirror the Penitential Rite of the Catholic Mass.
Voces8 does a wonderful job with Stefan Claas’ setting. They perform the work with the high quality talent and soul-stilling reverence which we’ve come to expect from them. They continue to raise the bar for sacred choral music.
“Maria durch ein Dornwald ging” became popular in Germany during the early 19th century. It is unclear how old the carol is, but there is evidence that the tune was sung in the early 1600s.
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