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  • Introduction to the Cantigas de Santa Maria

    The Cantigas de Santa Maria (CSM), composed at the Court of King Alfonso X of Castile in the second half of the 13th century, are a vast repertory of poetry in medieval Galician. The 420 compositions include 353 narratives of miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary - one of the largest such collections - as well as a large number of devotional and liturgical poems, almost all set to music, and many illustrated by miniatures divided into smaller panels. The CSM are thus more than a body of literature or a miracle collection, they are a cultural project of great importance for medieval literature, music, and art, and for the history of patronage. Alfonso X’s ‘Cantigas Project’ occupied most of his reign (1252-1284) and was seen by him as an important part of both his political survival and his personal salvation. He devoted considerable resources to it, though the organisation of its production, and its relationship to other products of the Alfonsine ‘scriptorium’, has not been established in any detail.

    Four contemporary manuscripts survive: To (the Toledo MS, now in the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid), T (the códice rico, in the Escorial Library), E (the códice de los músicos, also in the Escorial) and F (the Florence MS, in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence). They represent at least three different compilations or stages in the elaboration of the Cantigas Project: an early collection of 100 poems to which appendices were added (To); followed by a much expanded and highly ornamental collection of 400 (T+F) of which the second volume (F) was left in an incomplete and possibly disordered state; and a reference collection of 400 (E) with many imperfections and signs of hasty completion.