Canticles of Saint Mary


There are four manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa María (Canticles of Saint Mary): this copy from the National Library of Spain that formerly belonged to the Biblioteca Capitular in Toledo, two copies in the Escorial, and one in Florence, similar to the Toledan copy, but unfortunately missing some content. Written during the rule of Alfonso X, King of Castile and Leon (also known as Alfonso el Sabio, Alfonso the Wise), the canticles are a collection of monodic songs, in Galician language and mensural notation, in honor of the Virgin Mary. The songs, which usually were sung in church festivities, proclaim Mary’s virtues and recount the miracles accomplished by her intercession. The narratives are based on facts relating to Alfonso the Wise and his family, as well as on local legends and anecdotes. Popular flavor, simplicity, and expressionism are the essential features of the songs. The latest studies have shown that the manuscript in the national library is a copy of the Toledo version that was made in the late 13th century or early 14th century. The notation has been modernized and represents a more advanced stage of musical notation produced by more skilled copyists than the system used in the Escorial codices. The manuscript contains 122 canticles but no miniatures.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Cantigas de Santa María


Type of Item

Physical Description

160 sheet (2 colors, 27 lines). Parchment, 32 x 22 centimeters. Capital and initial letters, in blue and red, decorated with features. Titles and epigraphs in red

Last updated: January 28, 2015