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Saint Stephen

[ Roud 8331 ; trad.]

Peter Bellamy sang the carol Saint Stephen unaccompanied in 1969 on his third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate. A.L. Lloyd noted:

Davies Gilbert, politician and scientist (who, incidentally choose Brunel’s design for the Clifton Suspension Bridge) heard this stern ballad sung in the streets of Bodmin, and he included it in his Collection of Christmas Carols (1822), the pioneer modern carol compilation. Some ten years later the solicitor William Sandys published another version, with tune, in his Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833). In Peter Bellamy’s version, the words are mostly Gilbert’s, the tune is Sandys’, the whole comes from the Oxford Book of Carols.

Andy Turner first heard Saint Stephen on Peter Bellamy’s album. He recorded it with Magpie Lane in 1995 for their CD Wassail. He also sang it as part of the 16 December 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Peter Bellamy sings Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen was a holy man
Endued with heavenly might,
And many wonders he did work
Before the people’s sight;
And by the blessed Spirit of God,
Which did his heart inflame,
He spared not, in every place,
To preach God’s holy name.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
O man, do never faint nor fear,
When God the truth shall try;
But mark how Stephen, for Christ’s sake,
Was willing for to die.

Before the elders he was brought,
His answers for to make,
But they could not the spirit withstand
Whereby this man did speak.
While this was told, the multitude
Beholding him aright,
His comely face began to shine
Most like some angel bright.

Then Stephen did put forth his voice,
And he did first unfold
The wond’rous works which God had wrought
Even for their fathers old;
That they thereby might plainly know
Christ Jesus should here be
That from the burden of the law
Should quit us frank and free.

But, oh! quoth he, you wicked men,
Which of the prophets all
Did not your fathers persecute,
And keep in woeful thrall?
But when I heard him so to say,
Upon him they all ran,
And there without the city gates
They stoned this holy man.

There he most meekly on his knees
To God did pray at large
Desiring that He would not lay
This sin unto their charge;
Then yielding up his soul to God,
Who had it dearly bought,
He lost his life, and his body then
To the grave was seemly brought.