Behind the Christmas Carol: I Saw Three Ships
I Saw Three Ships is a traditional English folk song.
The song was written by wandering minstrels as they traveled throughout the country during the middle ages.
“In the original version of the carol, the Three Ships were the ones taking the supposed skulls of the wise men to Cologne cathedral in Germany.”
Over the course of time the lyrics, meaning of the three ships or Biblical characters in the song have changed and varied.
“Cecil Sharp, an English collector of folk songs, discovered several versions of this melody throughout the British Isles.”
“Another suggestion is that the ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as “ships of the desert”.”
The earliest known printed version of the song dates to the 17th Century.
I found different references to when the song was first published. One stated in 1666 and the other in 1833 by William Sandys.
The song has been covered by many artists including Nat King Cole, Mannheim Steamroller, Glen Campbell and Sting.
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