The Holy Innocents

holy innocentsToday, the fourth day of Christmas, falls the feast day of the Holy Innocents. It is the day the Church remembers the story, told in Matthew’s Gospel of the appalling cruelty and wickedness of Herod in ordering the massacre of innocent children, in a bid to protect his own power-base. Appalling, but only too familiar. What Herod did then is still being done across the world by Tyrants who would sooner slaughter innocents than lose their grip on power. This scarred and wounded world is the world into which Jesus was born, the world he came to save, and amongst those brought by his blood through the grave and gate of death and into the bliss of Heaven are those children of Bethlehem who died for his name without ever knowing him. But he knows them, as he knows and loves every child in Syria and every child at Sandyhook, and he says of them, to every Herod, ‘Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.’

This sonnet, which follows the narrative in Mathew 2:13-18, a narrative which goes out of its way to mention the death of Herod, is published in my collection Sounding the Seasons. It has also been adapted and set powerfully to Music by Steve Bell on his award-winning Album Keening For The Dawn.

As always you can hear this sonnet by pressing the ‘play’ button, if it appears, or clicking on the title.


We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.


You can listen Directly to steve Bell’s reworking of the song, with its ironic contrast between the tone of music and lyric Listen to it here:


Filed under christianity, imagination

12 responses to “The Holy Innocents

  1. i love how steve bell puts such beautiful music to malcom guite’s words 🙂

  2. I cannot hear that song or read this work without tears. Thank you for giving voice to our longing and prayer and hope.

  3. Brenda

    This innocent blood shed just after Jesus’ birth is so valuable to reflect upon. Well said commentary and song. Heartily inspired and placed words to something I have only ‘felt’ just after Christ’s birth-day for years. Thank you.

  4. Esther McIlveen

    Dear Malcolm,

    We have appreciated your emails, however we have moved to a senior’s place and want less emails. Please unsribe me.

    Many thanks, Esther McIlveen

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks I think there should be an unsubscribe link on the email itself. I’m not sure how to do it from here. But I’ll look and see

  5. Doug Hallstead

    Advent was so rich this year thanks to your collaboration with Steve Bell. Heard him in concert here in Victoria and then followed Advent Pilgrimage. It has been a blessing introducing friends to your poetry through Keening for the Dawn and through Pilgrimage. Thank you!

  6. I’ve still got goosebumps.

  7. How powerful, in spite of — or perhaps *because of* — its brevity… I especially appreciated the lamb motif.

    On my blog I am posting something for each day of the Twelve Days of Christmas… I did not have anything for the Holy Innocents – would it be possible for me to re-post your sonnet and link to your blog?

    Thank you,
    ~ Jody

  8. Pingback: Consoling Rachel | Gathered Fragments

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