In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cantigas de Santa Maria

  • Introduction
  • Overviews, Primary Sources, Bibliographies
  • Online Resources
  • Manuscripts and Facsimile Editions
  • Codicology
  • Editions and Translations of Poetry
  • Editions of Music

Medieval Studies Cantigas de Santa Maria
Peter V. Loewen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0210


The Cantigas de Santa Maria (CSM) is a late-medieval collection of over four hundred sacred Galician-Portuguese songs composed, according to tradition, by Alfonso X, known as “El Sabio,” King of Castile and León (1252–1284). The CSM is a monumental achievement in vernacular lyric and book art, remarkable in every way for its devotion to the Virgin through an ingenious combination of words, music, and visual art. The question of authorship has been much debated. Although scholars generally agree that Alfonso may have composed some of these sacred cantigas himself (forty-three profane cantigas have also been attributed to him), the bulk of this extant repertory of 427 CSM should be attributed to his circle of courtly poets and musicians. Alfonso X’s patronage of the sciences, Literature, visual art, music, and law was immense, which earned him the “The Wise” (El Sabio) epithet. He employed Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars, poets, Artists, and musicians, and had an astonishingly prolific scriptorium, which produced several major works in vernacular languages in addition to the CSM. For this reason, scholars have readily interpreted the contents of the CSM in light of these other monuments of Castilian literature, such as Alfonso’s legal code, known as Las Siete Partidas, and a historical text known as the General Estoria. The CSM have come down to us in four manuscript copies, each one varying in number of cantigas, which has suggested to some scholars that the CSM was a work in progress from c. 1270 until c. 1290. Manuscripts To, T, and E are thoroughly notated with music showing the latest advances in mensural notation (see Manuscripts and Facsimile Editions). Manuscripts T, F, and E are also lavishly illustrated with miniatures. As their lyric contents overlap, capturing the corpus from various perspectives, and perhaps at various stages in its development, the analyst is confronted by variant readings of most of the cantigas’ texts and melodies. The songs fall generally into two large categories of strophic song: cantigas de miragres, making up the majority, entailing miracles of the Virgin Mary; and forty-three cantigas de loor, or songs of praise to the Blessed Virgin. Scholarly study of the CSM has been extremely prolific, as Joseph T. Snow’s annotated bibliography eminently shows (Snow 2012, cited under Overviews, Primary Sources, Bibliographies). This bibliography offers a sample of some of the most important sources for research: historiographical; online and electronic; manuscript; codicological; editions and translations; and works of literary, musicological, and visual criticism.

Overviews, Primary Sources, Bibliographies

Snow 2012 offers the best introduction to research concerning the CSM. Biographies of Alfonso X—González Jiménez 2004, Castro 2005, Revenga 1985, and Martínez 2003—also include general introductions to the contents of the CSM, placing them within the larger context of Alfonso’s cultural achievements. Castro 2005 and Todesca 2015 take an historical approach, emphasizing the cantigas in their use as historical documents. Two other monumental products of the Alfonsine scriptorium, Las Siete Partidas (Burns 2001) and the General Estoria (Sánchez-Prieto Borja 2009) are very useful when examining the fine details of the CSM because the substances of these monuments are so deeply intertwined. Poncelet 1902, an index of miracles, opens the CSM to the broader world of sources on which composers relied when creating their cantigas de miragres. Overviews of strictly literary, artistic, and musical import in Serrano 1974 focus the reader on the song repertory itself.

  • Burns, Robert I., ed. Las Siete Partidas. 5 vols. Translated by S. P. Scott. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

    A complete translation of Alfonso X’s legal code. Offers a wealth of information concerning peninsular culture; its people, customs, and institutions; and the rules governing their relationships. Essential for contextual study of the CSM.

  • Castro, Bernardo Monteiro de. As Cantigas de Santa Maria: Um estilo gótico na lírica ibérica medieval. Hispanic Monographs. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2005.

    Places the cantigas into an historical context reflecting on style, art, social movements and politics, Gothic art, and theology.

  • González Jiménez, Manuel. Alfonso X El Sabio. Barcelona: Ariel, 2004.

    A biography of Alfsono X, and an analysis of the achievements of his kingship. Chapter XV assesses the CSM within the broader context of other literary products of Alfonso’s scriptorium. A general introduction to the cantigas appears under the heading “El Rey Trovador” (pp. 433–439).

  • Martínez, H. Salvador. Alfonso X, El Sabio: Una Biografia. Madrid: Polifemo, 2003.

    Extensive biography of Alfonso X. Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted to the CSM. Identifies the Franciscan Juan Gil de Zamora as an important collaborator in the composition of both the music and text of the cantigas. Translated by Odile Cisneros as Alfonso X, the Learned (Study in the History of Christian Traditions 146. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010).

  • Poncelet, Albert. “Index miraculorum B. V. Mariae quae saec. VI-XV latine conscripta sunt.” Analecta Bollandiana 21 (1902): 242–360.

    An index of incipits for miracles involving the Virgin Mary. Useful as a source for the cantigas de miragres.

  • Revenga, Francisco J. Diez de, ed. Obras de Alfonso X el Sabio. Madrid: Taurus, 1985.

    Places the CSM in the context of other works produced by Alfonso’s scriptorium, namely the General Estoria, Las Siete Partidas, and various astronomical works. Includes a number of cantigas.

  • Sánchez-Prieto Borja, Pedro, ed. General Estoria. 10 vols. Madrid: Fondación José Antonio de Castro, 2009.

    This six-part Castilian monument was originally projected as a universal history, from Creation to the modern day, but it was never completed. It covers biblical material from Creation to the birth of the Virgin Mary. The nonbiblical section is a patchwork of information about the ancient world, including Greek and Roman mythology and a history of the ancient Greeks. An essential source for study of the many biblical and historical events mentioned in the CSM.

  • Serrano, Matilde López. Cantigas de Santa María de Alfonso X el Sabio, Rey de Castilla. Madrid: Editorial Patrimonio Nacional, 1974.

    A brief introduction to the CSM with an overview of poetry, music, and miniatures. Includes color facsimiles from Ms. T.

  • Snow, Joseph T. The Poetry of Alfonso X: An Annotated Critical Biography (1278–2010). Woodbridge, UK: Tamesis, 2012.

    A comprehensive annotated bibliography, current to 2010, compiling 1987 items concerning the sacred and profane poetry of Alfonso X, including rare early literary sources of criticism dating to the 13th century. Citations are organized by year. Substantially updates The Poetry of Alfonso X el Sabio of 1976 (London: Grant & Cutler). Appendix B coordinates individual cantigas (1–427) with sources that discuss them.

  • Todesca, James J. The Emergence of León-Castile, c. 1065–1500: Essays Presented to J.F. O’Callaghan. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2015.

    Several articles that background events described in the CSM.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.