Swaddling bands – 23 December 2019
Here is a swaddling band, made in Italy around 1590. It has been sewn with care and very great skill. Swaddling bands such as these have been made for centuries, to wrap around a new born child, binding them tight. Such wrapping expressed care and was thought to bring the baby comfort.
In his gospel St Luke tells us that Mary wrapped Jesus in cloth and laid him in a manger. Did Mary have to receive swaddling cloths as a gift, or had she brought them with her, carefully prepared for the day that her son would be born? There is a long tradition that Mary was very good with a needle. For most mothers today, it is a joy to collect together the clothes for a new-born. Was it like this for Mary?
The angels told the shepherds that the ‘sign’ that they should look for was a swaddled infant, lying in a manger. The contrast here is between a new born infant prepared for and loved, yet without a proper bed or place to stay, so lying among the animals.
This swaddling band is in the V&A Museum. It is made of white linen, trimmed with whitework, reticella and punto in aria lace. The maker would have sat for hours working the delicate pattern into the edge of the band. During this time the mind can turn to many things, including for those of faith – prayer.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7, KJV
Mo ghaol, mo ghradh, a’s m’ fheudail thu,
M’ ion’ntas ur a’s n’ eibhneas thu,
Mo mhacan aluinn ceutach thu,
Cha ‘n fhiu mi fein bhi ‘d dhail.
(my love, my love and my treasure are You
my treasure and my joy are You
my lovely, becoming son are You
I’m not worthy of being near You)
From ‘Tàladh ar Slànaigheir’, Scottish Gaelic Carol
You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.
Malcolm Guite, Theotokos