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The treasures of the Library in San Lorenzo de El Escorial

We can find “Las Cantigas de Santa María” among the masterpieces which the Library of the Monastery of El Escorial hides, one of the most important musical colections in the medieval literature. This manuscript was developed during the 13th century. Also, it includes the lyrics and music in 427 religious compositions or “Cantigas” in tribute to the virgin Mary , written in “galaicoportugués” . This masterpiece is considered one of the most relevant monophonic song´s colections in the western medieval literature. The king Alphonso the tenth participated in this manuscript composition, being the author of 10 “cantigas” at least. These songs used to be sung during the church festivities which consisted mostly in showing the popular flavour, simplicity and the expressionism. They describe facts related to Alphonso´s life, his family, anecdotes…

“Las cantigas” are divided in two groups: First, “Cantigas a Nuestra Señora”, which are songs in tribute to the virgin Mary based on praises, including a serie of stories , miracles, games etc., They were related to the virgin. On the other hand, the second one would be completely different: they were shorter songs that inluded more serious and deeper poems where were reflective prayers about the virgin.

There are 4 kind of “Cantigas”:

  • “Cantigas del amigo”: They are based on the joy and sadness that a maiden expresses acording to the love that she feels about her lover.
  • Love “Cantigas”: They were sung by a in love knight.
  • “Cantigas de escarnio o del mal decir”: they are satirical “Cantigas”
  • Religious inspiration “Cantigas”: They are related to Miracles “marianos”.

The codices which Library the Monastery of El Escorial preserves have to be mentioned because of their representations, specially the images of medieval musical intruments that were used during the 13th century. The realism of those images was incomparable compared to others medieval manuscripts from that time. Also it has the spotlight on the life details during the medieval era in Spain, like costumes, shoes, architecture, furniture, ships etc.

It can be said that it´s a transgressor piece from the musical, literary and pictorial point of view. In addition it´s considered as the most important monodic songs in the 13th century.

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