Of the 420 Cantigas de Santa Maria contained in Europe’s richest medieval Marian
song book, 356 narrate the miracles performed by the Virgin Mary. The others are
songs of praise; prayers and Marian celebrations. The music and form of Alfonso X’s
Cantigas resemble other contemporary European melodies, especially those from
France, but their originality is rooted in the cultural background of Mudéjar Spain. The
same can be said of the miniatures that decorate the song books. For Alfonso X, the
regal author, "facer sones"(to make sounds) was of no less importance than "pintar"
(painting), "contar, trovar y rimar" (singing, composing verses and rhyme) in Galician
Over 80 Cantigas are about miracles that happened in French lands and are mainly
located at shrines in Soissons, Laon, Chartres, and Rocamadour, but they also take
place all around the country. In 1996, we recorded a first selection of 11 Cantigas on
Pneuma PN-520 "Cantigas of France". In order to complete our Retrospective
Recording of the Cantigas, we need to look at France once again, and to do so, we have
arranged these wonderful songs in three groups: this double CD with Cantigas of Gaul
or Northern France, another double CD for Cantigas of Occitania and Provence from
the centre and south of France and a sixth CD for Cantigas of Paris and surrounding
places such as Beauvais, Chartres and Orleans.
From the 11th century onwards, collections of miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary
were being composed in increasing numbers in Europe, at first in Latin and later in
vernacular languages. “The Miracles de Nostre Dame” by Gautier de Coincy, Gualterius
de Consiacco 1177-1236, prior of Vic-sur-Aisne, a district of Soissons in Northern
France and trouvère at the Abbey of Saint-Médard de Soissons, are worthy of note.
Coinci also mixes cantigas about miracles with cantigas of praise. In Spain, Gonzalo de
Berceo 1221-1264, composed his Milagros de Nuestra Señora (Miracles of Our Lady) in
Other coincident sources of miracles are the “Speculum Historiale” by the Dominican
Vincent of Beauvais c.1190-1264, De “Miraculis Beatae Mariae suessionensis”
(Soissons) by Hugo Farsitus, companion of St Bernard of Clairvaux, mentioned in
cantiga 61, and the “Liber Mariae” by Alfonso X’s collaborator, Fra Juan Gil of Zamora.
Other sources of miracles include Herman de Laon, Gobius, Etienne de Bourbon, Jean
Le Marchand and the miracles of Provence.
Eight cantigas mention Soissons with references to the construction of its churches.
Miracles occurred at the Abbey of Notre Dame, destroyed during the French
Revolution, the Abbey of Saint-Médard and the Cathedral of St Gervais and St Protais.
Soissons was a Gallo-Belgian village, known as Novidunum in Roman times, and was
the capital of the kingdom of Siagrio in the 5th century, and of the kingdom of France
under Clovis I.
Arras is named in three cantigas, where miracles occur at the church of Notre Dame
and the Abbey of Saint-Vaas. The rest of the selected Cantigas are located in nearby
places or in locations that are not specified when the subject matter is particularly
Many of the miracles these cantigas narrate have a connection with the disease known
as "St Martial’s Fire", a painful type of leprosy which was considered a plague in the
13th century. The music to Cantiga 298 has not survived and we have adapted the
simplified melody of Cantiga de loor 180.