Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Given how cold it is at Highclere just now, the lines from one of my favourite poems, “The Journey of the Magi” by TS Eliot have been running through my head since the early hours.
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
The horses are a particular concern. After breakfast, it is all about breaking the thick ice on the water troughs and sorting them out for the day. Later on, we take out a warm tea (bran mash) to those who remain in the fields to make sure they are drinking enough water in the cold. They are thickly rugged and happy – it is cold but not sleeting or windy.
Of course, I can then for go inside for warmth and tea but in the poem the three Magi continue on their journey, finding beautiful landscapes but often unfriendly people in the villages where they stop for the night. Eventually they arrive “at evening, not a moment too soon, Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.” Interestingly, there is no mention of a star or a stable.
The Bible stories and later hymns, however, record a much warmer and more loving scene. The three wise men are Kings (also called Magi) and they followed the star to find the Baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and choirs of angels. The stories and witnesses testify to the scene of the baby, lying in a manger in a stable, which is so well known to everyone.
In contrast, TS Eliot’s poem about the Magi never directly mentions either the baby or any gifts although some of the references in the poem presage Christ’s later life and crucifixion. There is a sense of powerlessness, a historical point of change which is not decisive. Instead, there seem to be doubts about the whole point of the journey that they have made. It is, nevertheless, an antique story and in some ways a magical one.
Today’s magical elements may concentrate rather more heavily on Father Christmas and his elves but the idea of gifts is still as central now as it was 2022 years ago. The gifts of the Magi were symbolic: gold represented wealth, frankincense (which was burnt in the temples) linked the baby to God whilst myrrh was used to embalm bodies and presaged Christ’s death.
The last few decades have been described as being an era of consumerism with a pre-occupation with material objects – gifts abound with quantity perhaps often overtaking thought. Yet the Magi’s gifts were hugely valuable in monetary terms and even the shepherds’ lambs represented great wealth to them.
We welcomed a gift market here last week – it was wonderful to see traders and visitors back after the last few years. I hope people found some nice presents and Highclere’s gift shop was very busy. Today, it is the turn of the “Friends of Highclere” who are coming for Christmas tours and afternoon tea with me. This club is very special to me in that it represents friendship and support in a changing world, something that money really can’t buy, along with special access for these who want to look deeper into the workings of Highclere. I can’t wait to meet them all.
Whilst TS Eliot’s poem ends in a sense of loss or alienation, I hope Friends is the opposite: an antique house playing a modern tune, full of laughter and fun.
3 wonderful visits this year
Such a lovely post
I have just finished reading your book Christmas at Highclere. I loved it thank you for all the wonderful stories of Christmas time at the castle
We are so privileged to be here at this point of time in Earth’s history. Surely we are here to care and share the joy of Christ’s birth. Life is so short and every day is a gift. God bless all the family and all the staff and friends of Bighclere!
When you said after tending to the horses it’s wonderful to go into the warm house, it actually gave me a chill. I live in a small 100 year old Victorian house in east Texas. It has 15 foot ceilings and drafty windows. We’re trying not to spend BIG bucks using the central gas heating system. So we have space heaters in each room. We are NOT cozy and warm. And it’s only 30 degrees outside! How do you manage to heat the castle?
Your beautiful home represents so much to me. I have been twice from America. My roots are British and I feel like I’m breathing when I’m in the English countryside. From Newberry to Burton-on-the-water, a sense of home envelopes me there. Thank you fir sharing so much of your life and history of Highclere with those of us unable to be there often. I’m connected to my past and the links are your books, posts and emails! I hope to return again!
Merry Christmas to all at Highclere. My family will be eating my little bit of Highclere, in the form of the Christmas cake, beetroot pickle and Christmas pudding ! all from the lovely recipes in your Christmas at Highclere, that I got when first published. We are in New Zealand, so our weather will be hot and sunny, with many going to the beach for Christmas day. We have horses and cattle and also a dairy farmer,so don’t go to far over the immediate days of Christmas, but then head off to beaches camping a few days later.
I would love a winter Christmas, as I was 14 when my family left Somerset 50 years ago, but I remember the cold and waking to that strange silence and pristine world.
Thank you so much for your kind comments!
That is my favorite poem, too. Thank you.
Dear Lady Carnarvon, beautiful story and pictures. Happy Christmas to you!
Another wonderful Monday morning Blog Lady Carnarvon!
The photo of the castle under fog and with snow is so different that other seasons but still beautiful. It is a coincidence with us here in South West FL as our temperatures are down and we are under fog this morning as well (but now snow!).
Having had a horse farm I do know the effort it takes to keep horses hydrated during winter when water troughs freeze up. Good luck to you & your staff and the horses throughout winter.
Thank you also for the historic connection to the birth of Jesus Christ and lovely photos.
Also of you wrapping gifts and “Santa” with your Friends of Highclere box in his hands.
Do enjoy the gathering today of Friends of Highclere members attending your tour day and do know that I am sad I won’t be a part of it as I could not fly over as I had a foot surgery performed two weeks ago and still have stitches in it that will finally to be removed this Friday.
Remain well and enjoy your beautiful holiday season there in and around Highclere.
Thank you – hope your foot recovers well!
Hope and faith, both today and throughout the centuries since the Magi, add to the wonder and mystery of life. Thank you for a lovely Christmas story to which TS Eliot gives a different focus through the symbolic meaning of the Magi’s gifts.
And a huge ‘thank you’ for bringing your readers and visitors your lovely home, in actual visits to the castle and gift shop, or online in this world of magic!!
Happy holidays and a hopeful New Year to come!
Lady Carnarvon, a splendid story today. It is wonderful being part of Friends of Highclere. I feel more of a close connection to you and Highclere. A good feeling! Cheryl.
Terrific posting today
Happy Christmas to you all
Dear Lady Carnarvon
Greetings from a very frosty Windermere.
I have to say that your regular blogs are always a gift on Monday’s!
Beautifully written pieces and not only full of interesting information but also heart warming stories of life at Highclere, all the Highclere ‘family ‘ and the farm. I always look forward to them. Tomorrow I drive to South Wales to collect my sister and we shall be part of the Highclere Christmas celebrations ourselves on Friday evening. That event is our Christmas gift to each other!!
See you on Friday!
Such a lovely picture of one of your “furry children” perfectly framed by the presents and fireplace.
While I love the pictures of Highclere, it is always wonderful to see the pictures of the residents of Highclere.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thanku for your wonderful blog, warm & heartfelt as always…..reflects your warmth & joy at Christmas – thanku also for the great photographs, I particularly love the one of your sweet Labrador looking at the presents….no doubt wondering if one of them contains something edible!
I wish you & everyone at Highclere a truly Happy Christmas,
Much love always,
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
A wonderful article as always. The last picture steals my heart. Getting ready for the Season can be hectic but it gets the Christmas spirit into our hearts. Sitting by a beautiful fire is a wonderful place to wrap gifts especially when it looks so cold outside. A little bit of snow helps bring on the Christmas wonder and love that needs to fill our hearts.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Lovely thoughts but I hope it’s warmer in Highclere than it is at Hungerford.
Have a very pleasant and warm Christmas as I am sure you certainly will. Diana
I think it will warm up again by Christmas! turn to mud..
Aaah – how I’d love to join you, your dogs and “Friends of Highclere” for tea today. The 1st photo of wintery scene and silhouetted horses – is that from your photo archives or a recent snow? It’s beautiful!! Thank you for another wonderful piece of writing.
Thank you for these thoughts. They are so many things – especially warm, comforting and poignant. I too work with horses and love the feeling that at the end of the day we have done all we can to make them safe and comfortable in the cold of winter. And there’s nothing better than sharing warmth and laughter with friends and family. Merry Christmas.
Lady Carnarvon l happy Christmas to you and lord Carnarvon lam looking forward to Christmas it is my birthday Boxing Day did you get any snow this morning
No snow just a hard frost
A beautiful story, another beautiful web site. Thank you and a Happy Christmas to all.
Happy Christmas to you
What a beautiful post! Merry Christmas to all at Highclare!
Happy Christmas Lorraine
Thank you for the images of frankincense and myrrh in the blog. I noted the same references in your tome on Christmas and the yummy food at Highclere during the holiday season, but also appreciated the inclusion of the images. Thanks again.
Always enjoy how you work with words and poetry to give us more to thing about in relation to Highclere and our connections with each other. Beautiful pictures this week as always. Thank you for starting my Mondays with musings to get me thinking. Now to find my T S Eliot poems!
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, Thank you for this letter to us readers as I found this very touching and moving during this special time of Christ birth, I do also love this poem of T.S. Elio. I love to read your blogs Lady Carnarvon you are truly gifted and such a lovely lady.
My Husband and I did come to your recent Christmas tour it was very magical and one I will truly remember, we both indeed found wonderful gifts from your Christmas market. Thank you and Earl of Carnarvon for sharing your home with us it was nice to see you from the distance as well when you were amongst the people. I am truly loving your “Christmas At Highclere the book we received on our tour, this is one of the many books we own from you as we both enjoy the recipes and your writing. God Bless and have a magical Christmas with your family.
I also found some gifts in the gift market – I am in the midst of wrapping..
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I hope we’ll get to see some of the party on Friends (archive at least). I wish I was close enough for a pop-over, but will have to content myself with the summer garden party. Happy Christmas!
I look forward to seeing you in the Summer
I love that your blog starts my week – always makes me smile! We lived close by, on Newtown Common back in the 80, then in Wootton Rivers before moving to the states, and have such fond memories of those freezing cold, frosty mornings! Thank you for always getting my week off to a good start!
Love the pictures, especially the dog waiting for his gift!!!
Have a wonderful Holiday Season with your Friends and Family!! Ours this year is very bitter sweet. We lost our 91 year old Mother in April and Christmas was her holiday. We will miss her even more on the day! But keeping our spirits high for her.
I am so sorry for your loss
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I very much enjoy your blogs. I would love to live nearby so I could dash into your shop once in a while but I still hope to make it some day with my twin. We live, Lana on the Canadian side and me on the American side of the border. 20 minutes away from each other by car. We are planning a trip in the next couple years. I very much look forward to visiting your lovely home. Thank you for your blog. Happy Christmas to you and your husband. Linda
Happy Christmas Linda
I wonder if others, like me, had to look up this poem? I knew some of his others, but not Journey of the Magi. Thank you for telling us of it (and to Google for providing it.)
Thank you for your lovely message. Would be a dream to see the magic of Highclere at this time.
I heard an interesting possibility about the visiting kings from the Far East. Since the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon included Daniel, a well respected and treasured Israelite, he may have told the Babylonians about the prophesies of Jesus causing them to seek Him with gifts. Interesting possibility.
A very interesting possibility! Thank you for sharing!
Also…. thanks for the info on the gifts: their symbolism pointing to a prophecy of the life of Jesus on earth.
It is a brilliant poem .. and the doubt at the end is poised, balanced, uncertain yet the baby is there
Love it, love it, love it. Wish everyone remembered the true meaning of Christmas all year long. And a terrific pic of your puppy dog to boot.
Thank you for a great start to my week.
Morey (Pflugerville, TX USA)
Beautiful Poem! Merry Christmas to you & all your Family, God bless & a Healthy New Year Too All!
Thank you for the lovely poem. Beautiful photograph of the horses in the snow, and of your sweet doggie surrounded by the wrapped presents. Highclere must be magical this time of year, but then, it’s magical every day of the year!
Even if I can’t be there in presence today, I express my “virtual”best wishes to you and all the other Friends . I really hope this amazing Club may have a long long long life and always be an opportunity to achieve knowledge , have fun and be linked to Downton/Highclere
Happy Christmas to all at Highcelere
Lovely I’m looking forward to visiting Highclere in April love downtown abby
Your post of the gifts of the magi refreshes my memories of looking through clumps of frankincense and myrrh in Jerusalem and Petra just weeks ago, extensions to our Viking Pharaoh’s & Pyramids cruise, all the while thinking how precious those gifts were to present to Baby Jesus. It was a trip of a lifetime! I was tickled to see the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s photo over my stateroom bed. Your new book is on the way and I can’t wait to read it and reminisce what I learned and saw in Egypt. Have a wonderful Friends of Highclere gathering!
Thank you – it sounds as if you had a wonderful trip
Your “eye” for scenes to photograph is as sharp as your writing. Your first picture today made me gasp when I saw the tiny pair of horses.
When we lived at RAF Uxbridge near London, I travelled the countryside as often as possible. How I loved seeing horses wearing their jackets as they stood or romped in fields! It was always during winter when freezing fog blanketed every field, every scene. Everything appeared to be in a snow globe, much like your first photo today. I always knew the horses with jackets were well cared for and well loved. They seemed always to be in pairs. Probably just a coincidence — but so are yours. That made me smile at my old memories.
I can’t tell if your’s in this pic are dressed for the cold, but my mind’s heart knows they are most surely. What a magnificent photograph and equal delightful Monday text.
Thank you for sharing your most astounding life at Highclere with your many fans each Monday. Your emails are truly one of the great joys of my life.
Your pictures of the frosty countryside are stunning. The words of T.S. Eliot tie in the cold, sharp weather with being beautiful at the same time. Sharing your time at the tours and tea shows how much you appreciate the friendships you’ve built. May you and Lord Carnarvon be blessed through the Christmas season and on through the new year!
Another lovely message! It was a dream come true to visit Highclere last week, and wonderful to visit with you in the gift shop while you selected scarves as gifts for the Ukrainian choir members. Thank you for suggesting I join Friends of Highclere. I wasn’t aware of the opportunity but I’ve just completed my application! I’m looking forward to all the benefits it offers!
Merry Christmas to you and all the Highclere family. Please give my Christmas wishes to Louis the Butler whom I met in the Christmas market. Visiting Highclere was the highlight of our week in England!
I cannot wait it share on Friends and see what you think – I think Friends is becoming richer with more texture all the time ..
One of my very favourite poems too! We had an interesting dialogue after a reading at Highclere’s Poetry Group about what Eliot had in mind when his “old white horse galloped away in the meadow”. We were’nt convinced by either of the conventional critics’ views, which focus on it being a horse and being white, but ignore the key words, “old” and “galloped away”. The Magi had come to witness the end of “the old order”!
Have a good Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
thank you – it is a remarkable and provocative poem
It is interesting to me that Eliot wrote such a wistful poem and also wrote poems such as “The Hollow Men.” The “cat” poems are what I know best. Anyway, Happy Christmas to you and your family. Is the identity of your Father Christmas a secret? 🙂
How lovely! Your beautiful words and environment are a blessing to us all, filling me with the Spirit of Christmas! Thank you
Dear Lady C,
I haven’t written for a long time, as there always seem to be so many lovely comments by the time I get to read your weekly “epistle” here in Australia. However, I read your lovely presentation just after I’d listened to the most appalling “thing” about Ectolife – raising designer babies in laboratories – which was made to sound so appealing, but to me as a Christian was totally abhorrent. Thank you for helping me to refocus on our blessed Lord. I couldn’t remember the whole of T.S.Eliot’s poem, so went and found a youtube of him reading the whole thing. It’s sad, but uplifting at the same time. Then I went to Psalm 121 – my favourite Psalm in time of trouble. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help. My help cometh from the Lord who has made heaven & earth. He will not let my foot to stumble. He that keepeth me neither slumbers nor sleeps”. Thank you again for helping me to refocus on the things of eternal beauty. Your pictures of the snow, the horses, and your wistful dog are priceless. may the Good Lord bless and keep you this Christmas season.
To quote Lady Carnarvon:
❤️ “the baby is there” ❤️.
Dear Lady Canarvon,
A happy Christmas to you and everyone else who helps make Highclere, Highclere. Seeing your photo sitting on the red couch in the library brings back happy memories of when I visited some time ago. I was always aware of it during the library scenes of Downton Abbey because the red pulls that are on each side caught my attention, so I was really pleased when I saw it in person. So glad to hear you are able to resume your Christmas events. Wish I lived close enough to attend but it is a big ocean.
We have some pasture horses where I train, but fortunately my horse lives in the heated barn and I don’t think it has been cold enough in Iowa yet for the barn folks to have to go out and break water. In fact, they are still turning the barn horses out to play even now, although we have had a few winters where it has gotten cold enough to bring the pasture horses into the arena for the nights. They also like to roll and since I train about half the time on lesson horses, it is always “fun” getting the mud off when they get done rolling around, something that I am pretty sure you have also experienced.
Once again, thank you for making us an unofficial part of your Highelere family. Kind of the next best thing to being there.
The photograph of the dog is a beautiful christmas card! What a lovely sweet animal! He posed perfectly.
Your story about the Three Wise Men is priceless. It reminds me of my childhood. Every January 6. Later, I met Santa in the states. Wether is the Magi, papa Noel, or Santa. We all become children at this time of year. It’s beautiful.
I lovely to Highcelere castle and fan of Downton abbey calendars and happy Christmas to you and Lord Carnarvon and lam looking forward to Christmas it is my birthday
Your photos are always so lovely!
And I love it whenever I see T.S. Eliot quoted. Although he spent many, many years in England, he was born and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, His family home still stands as an historic residence, able to be visited. Although I now live in California, I, too, was born and grew up in St. Louis. It is when I read mentions of T.S. Eliot as you have done that I am instantly transported back to that midwestern city!
All good wishes for a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, Lord Carnarvon and your family!
A very Happy Christmas to all at Highclere and such beautiful warm photos. God Bless
Hi Lady Carnarvon,
Winter here in Durham Region (Ontario, Canada) is looking like your snow misted fields. We’re experiencing a winter ice and snow today and through tomorrow as well.
Reading your Monday blog is a special treat which I like to hold on to… as once I’ve enjoyed reading it for the week, I have wait another week for the next one. You write great stories with interesting ideas behind them. The comments from the other world-wide readers are as much fun to read too.
I hope you enjoyed your visit with the Friends of Highclere who were coming to tours and tea with you this week.
Happy Holidays to you and your family; friends and your co-staff at the Castle.
Good evening from Texas!
I enjoyed this blog post very much, and happy to have discovered it.
Thank you for sharing your home and stories with us.
Not familiar with that poem. Thanks for the tip, and the lovely observations.
God Bless have a beautiful holiday at the Castle!
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for this Monday’s frosty blog with its colorful pictures and beautiful, theme appropriate TS Eliot poem.
If it is any consolation to you, the weather has been just as cold, gray, icy, and snowy in the Detroit area.
In the FYI department, when celebrating the Feast of Epiphany, small/pre-filled boxes with a piece of chalk, frankincense, gold, and myrrh were available in the vestibule of the Church. Tradition has it that the entry door to your home was marked with the current year and the capital initials of the Three Wise Men. This was done to bring blessings on the occupants and all who entered there. Unfortunately, COVID-19 somewhat changed this practice, as the pre-done boxes were nowhere to be found. Therefore, an improvisation was necessary: a computer-generated paper banner was created and affixed to my front door.
So, until next week 20+K+M+B22, to you, Lord Carnarvon, and everyone at Highclere Castle.
P.S. I am enjoying watching the Friends of Highclere holiday streaming. Thank you for sharing your home and the Castle with everyone.
Thank you so much!