The Donkey’s Carol
Ancient Roman Christian sarcophagus, 4th century. The Ox and the Ass (Donkey) on either side of the Baby Jesus in the crib.
The humble Donkey, who lives in stables and eats from mangers, enters the official Christian story as the animal of Peace whom Jesus chooses to bring him from Bethany to Jerusalem, while the people lay garments and rushes and branches of palm before him. The Donkey’s Carol tells this story from the Donkey’s own point of view, looking back from this time – how he once gave the Baby his straw and kept him warm with his breath, nuzzling his feet to make him laugh, and how he carried the Baby and his Mother Mary on his back, up mountains and down valleys, until he and his family were safe.
Art has elaborated the original story in the Gospel of Matthew. When an angel appears to Joseph in a dream warning him to flee to Egypt to escape Herod (2: 8-14), their journey is typically represented in art with a Donkey carrying Mary and Joseph and the Baby away from danger – for how else would they travel? Later, when Jesus was a boy, they played and danced together in the fields, each other’s playmates.
When Jesus grew up to become a man and then a King, the Donkey helped him to fulfill his destiny by bringing him into Jerusalem.
The Donkey tells us he has learned much from his life with Jesus, sharing all the stages of his journey with him – from baby to boy-child to King: He ends by passing on the wisdom of Jesus: ‘Become as little children’ and ‘Love one another.’
Fra Angelico, Flight into Egypt. Museo del San Marco, 1451-2.
Gilly Kohler, The Donkey’s Carol (App). 2015.