The Cantigas of Jerusalem are part of Pneuma's project to record a retrospective of the
entire collection of the Cantigas de Santa María de Alfonso X. More specifically, this
recording is part of the collection of miracles that take place in the Eastern
Mediterranean, and complements CD PN 880 Cantigas of Byzantium, PN-1490 Cantigas
of Rome, PN-1510 Cantigas of Alexandria and PN2-1530 Cantigas from Overseas.
Foreign lands, the Holy Land and Jerusalem appear in the cantigas along with 13th
century characters related in some way with pilgrims (palmers), traders and crusaders
going to the East from Europe and back again, to defend Christendom from the
Muslims, to search for riches and to express their true devotion to the places where
Jesus Christ lived.
This selection is about miracles concerning the apostles and the lives of the pilgrims
and monks in this land in the Middle Ages.
This world was not unknown to the wise king's court in Seville. Alfonso X aspired to the
imperial Byzantine crown (John of Brienne, married to his aunt Berengaria, took refuge
for a while in Castile), the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Holy Roman Empire, all of
which featured as family and political affairs in his time.
The great faith of the protagonists in the power of the Virgin Mary is the leitmotif of
these beautiful songs. Songs composed, written and illustrated in Alfonso X's
scriptorium, as part of his cultural and devotional project.
Alfonso X's European ancestry was extremely important. He was the great grandson of
the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Irene of Byzantium, the sister of the emperor
Alexios IV. Jerusalem was within the area of influence of Constantinople, the capital of
the Byzantine Empire, always a key location in the epic story of the Crusades. The
codices of the cantigas were written in the court of Alfonso X the Wise, 1253-1284, in
Galician-Portuguese verse. They were one of the greatest literary products of the time
and constitute the most important collection of 13th century European melodies.
All the Cantigas in Pneuma's comprehensive anthology are sung with the full text,
which in itself is a challenge, since some are very long and the melodies can be simple
and repetitive. Without knowing how they were performed in the court of the Wise
King, we used resources that enabled us to give each song its unique flavour. The chant
is supported by the chorus, sometimes enhanced with 13th century style polyphony:
canon with overlapping words and the melody mirrored on the main note of the scale
or mode; recited narrative or dialogue, very common in poems; and the tones and
textures of the instruments drawn so profusely in the miniatures that appear in the
codices of the cantigas
1 CSM 27 Church or Synagogue in Diospolis.
Cantiga 25 in the Codex of Toledo. An oriental tale, also told by Gil de Zamora, set in the
Apostolic Age. It tells the story of how a synagogue was purchased in Diospolis (Colonia Lucia
Septima Severa in Palestine, later Byzantine Lydda) to be converted into the first Christian
church. The Jews, regretting having sold it, wanted to recover the synagogue and took the
matter before Caesar. Caesar closed the temple for 40 days as a result of the dispute. The
apostles asked the Virgin Mary, who still lived on Mount Zion, for help which she promised to
give. When the temple opened, a painted image of the Virgin appeared beside the altar and
the Jews admitted defeat. Sometime later, the Emperor Julian the Apostate, commanded the
Jews to bring the image to him, but when they tried to take it off the wall Holy Mary stared so
intently at them that they did not dare to touch it. This cantiga has a repetitive melody with
verse and structure in zejel form.
2 CSM 187 Monastery of Jerusalem.
The Virgin Mary helps a monastery in Jerusalem by providing wheat and gold. The monastery
used to be the old church on Mount Zion, the Cenacle, and the first church in Syria, erected by
the Apostles on top of a synagogue when the Virgin Mary was living there. In the Middle Ages
it was a very famous monastery, but it was on the verge of being abandoned after twice
suffering a year of famine. On one occasion the Virgin filled the granaries with wheat and
another time made a treasure of gold appear before the altar. Gregory of Tours, Caesarius of
Heisterbach, Flodoaldus and Mussafia all tell similar stories.
3 CSM 383 Pilgrims going to Jerusalem from Sigüenza. Instrumental
Instrumental version of this cantiga that was sung on Pneuma CD PN-210, Cantigas of Castile –
La Mancha. The cantiga links Sigüenza, a city in Guadalajara in Castile, the image of Santa
María la Antigua, the Virgin of Antiquity, and the pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre of
Jerusalem. A woman and her daughter set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by sea. After
successfully making pilgrimages to the Holy Places, they boarded a boat in Acre for their
return, but the woman fell into the water. Crying out to the Virgin Mary for help, the Virgin
rescued her from the bottom of the sea, from under the ship, and brought her back looking
radiant and beautiful.
4 CSM 33 Pilgrims to Jerusalem in Acre. The four elements.
A pilgrim on his way to Jerusalem was rescued from a shipwreck in St. Jean d’ Acre. A ship
carrying 800 pilgrims encountered a great storm before arriving in Acre and began to sink. The
bishop and 200 more escaped in a small boat and a man who wanted to go with them plunged
into the depths of the sea. The ones in the small boat rowed, carrying candles, to port, where
they were astonished to see the man who had fallen overboard and who they had given up for
drowned. When they asked him how he had arrived there, he told them that Holy Mary, the
Mother of the One who created the four elements, had saved him from the sea because he
believed in Her.
5 CSM 172 The merchant of Acre’s crystal cross.
Holy Mary saves a merchant who was going to St Jean d’Acre in the Holy Land, with his ship full
of merchandise. In a dangerous storm, he vowed to go on a pilgrimage to Puy and Salas in
Huesca, and was saved. When fulfilling his promise to make a pilgrimage to the shrines, he
gave an offering of a crystal cross. The last verse says that this cantiga should be sung by
6 CSM 29 Gethsemane, the Virgin of the milk. Instrumental
Natural stone figures of the Mother of God were found in Gethsemane. They were not
paintings nor had they been carved. This is an instrumental version of this cantiga, sung on
Pneuma CD PN2-880, Cantigas of Byzantium.
7 CSM 337 Man from overseas in Jerusalem.
Cantiga 102 in the codex of Florence. A man, who was obsessed with going overseas, went
there in a vision and often talked of it passionately with his fellow countrymen. One day his
beloved son went horse riding and fell from a high bridge and the father cried out to the
Virgin, Queen and Lady for help. The Virgin was startled by the cry and she was reminded of
her fear when Herod wanted to kill her son, so she crossed the sea fleeing from Jerusalem, and
told the saints to help the boy and horse, so that neither would be wounded in the fall.
8 CSM 287 Santa Maria della Scala in Genoa
A woman from Genoa was married to a man who wanted to kill her. The husband suggested
they went by sea to pray at the hermitage of Santa Maria della Scala (Our Lady of the Mount),
so that he could put her in a sack and throw her into the sea. This he did, and when he arrived
at the hermitage he saw his wife sitting with the sack in her hand, praying to the Virgin, who
had saved her by opening the sack under the sea. The husband asked her for forgiveness,
which she gave, and they both went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem