Alfonso X was born in the Alficén of Toledo, the highest area of the city, where the different civilizations that occupied it established their fortifications and palaces. It was the year 1221 in the Palacio de Galiana. We are talking about the Christian king who was Wise thanks to the fact that luck, which is a double-sided coin, gave him in wisdom what it took from him in governance. And it is not that he ruled little: he was king of Castile and León, suddenly turning his kingdom into a world power, and he conquered and repopulated several Muslim enclaves. But his great obsession, being King of Kings, being Holy Roman Emperor was not possible. Despite being elected, the Pope finally denied it, having spent a lot of time and money, enough to anger the family, the nobility and the Church itself, causing internecine wars, various tensions and a sea of gossip in the kingdom. .
The failure in the effort made him retreat to the Court and dedicate himself to collecting and translating all the knowledge in the emblematic School of Translators of Toledo. There he gathered scholars from all disciplines: law, literature, music, astronomy, history, education, games; all languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Latin; and all cultures: Jews, Muslims and Christians. It was about putting his texts in common and translating them not only into Latin as had been done until then, but into Castilian, the Romance language that the king institutionalized until it became official, thus going from vulgar to erudite. Thanks to his creativity, he laid the foundations for the history of the Kingdom of Castile and its cultural greatness.
And it is that obsession, something sick that has to do with the ego, is not the same as respect and duty, something venerable that has to do with what you contribute to the world around you; than pleasure, something that saves you and that has to do with vocation and personal development. If his ego was not completely satisfied because he did not become emperor, his world was and his vocation was. He contributed to his world by endowing the kingdom with a historical, administrative, organizational and legislative work with a unifying intention that made him the first medieval king who had a vision of Spain. And his legacy was great, although his governance raised blisters among the nobles, the cities and the church, passive subjects of local jurisdictions and privileges who did not want to admit the changes, especially in the Treasury.
Alfonso X was a thoughtful, creative, intelligent king, in his assumed role as King as intercessor of God's designs for his kingdom, being highly criticized for it. Lapidary is the phrase of the Jesuit Juan de Mariana (16th century) about his figure: «meditating on the stars, he lost the earth». He portrayed himself in these words: «the conquests had come a long way, I had to order jurisdictions with donations and repopulation, regulate manors and councils. All this embarrassed my intelligence, I was made for poetry, for the pleasure of philosophy, art, history, science and to study the infinite astronomy».
"I was made for poetry." That was her vocation and he developed it doing what she liked the most, what she loved and what saved her: composing poetry, but also music. And his skill in having it done and in doing it himself was so great that he left for the legacy of Universal History the summum of the arts - poetry, music and painting in narrative miniatures - in a work that is the richest songbook of the Middle Ages. : The Songs of Santa Maria. He was also a secular poet, but the Marian songs are his most impressive personal work, made with exquisite care, written in the language he learned as a child when his tutors took care of him in Galicia: Portuguese Galician, much more prestigious and refined at that time than the Castilian. He dedicated them to the great Lady of the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary, the spur of the Gothic cathedrals of the time: Burgos, Toledo, León. He, who loved many women and had several bastard children, before and after his marriage, changed them all, late in life, for only one, the "Lady among Ladies", the "Rose among Roses", the Virgin Maria: "If I don't get his love for nothing, I give the other loves to the devil."
There were 427 songs to Santa María that came out of his Scriptorium. The researchers conclude about its authorship, that about 30, especially the most personal, belong exclusively to the king's pen. Four codices are preserved: Toledano, Rico, Florencia and Los Músicos. The Rico codex, from the Library of El Escorial, stands out for its illuminations and large number of songs. In minuscule narrative scenes, as if it were a comic, he portrays all kinds of people carrying out a multitude of trades, characters of holy and dissolute lives, women of all walks of life dressed in the fashion of the moment and children and their games, all of this in both street and interior scenes. It is the most outstanding in the exhibition of the Museum of Santa Cruz de Toledo 'Alfonso X el Sabio; the legacy of a forerunner king'. To the left of him is the one from Florence, the last and unfinished due to the ups and downs of the king at the end of his life, important precisely for that reason, to learn how the songs were made. To the right of him, the Toledano. The one of the Musicians that is in El Escorial only has illuminations of musicians, and their instruments – whose beautiful replicas are also exhibited in the Santa Cruz de Toledo-.
But the Toledano - you will be moved to see it - is my favorite because it is ours, the one that has been in the Chapter Library of the Cathedral for hundreds of years, and also because it is the only original on display, the other two are facsimiles. It belonged to the Toledo Cathedral until 1869, when it was transferred to the National Library. The way in which he did it because of the disentailment process suffered by the Church during the Revolutionary Sexenio is for another article. Numerous "objects of art and science" were seized from Toledo Cathedral by decree and with the immediate intervention of the Ministry of Public Works, the Civil Government and even the Police, including the Codex of the Cántigas de Santa María. With the subsequent establishment of the monarchy of Alfonso XII, the return of what was seized was ordered, but many things never returned, not even the Cántigas. Thanks to Patrimony of the Cathedral for giving me access to the document 'Disentailed Funds in the Chapter Archives' by Fernández Collado and Lop Otín.
The Toledano codex is a handwritten copy of the original, written in 13th-century French letters with beautiful initial capital letters. Collect the first 100 songs from the King's Scriptorium. There are 100 poems with their 100 scores to be sung with instrumental accompaniment. But it lacks lighting. In it, the songs are numbered in Romans and the ten-year songs are in praise of the Virgin, in praise, while the others narrate her miracles. Viewed as a defender of the underprivileged and sinners, sometimes her poems are amazing, like when the Virgin performed a caesarean section on an abbess before she was inspected by the Archbishop because it was rumored that she was pregnant. Of course, the Virgin also made sure that the child was taken in by a Christian family.
In the Cántigas de Santa María the king undresses his emotions, talking about himself and his troubles, making us participants in the events of his life, the political difficulties - the advance of the French from the north and the Benimerines from the south, the early death of his heir Fernando de la Cerda that caused a war of succession, the betrayal of his son Sancho IV and the flight of his wife Violante to the Kingdom of Aragon, the impossibility of being emperor, the uprising of nobles and cities. He also mourns his illnesses and his depressions, laments his fits of anger, reveals his wishes, shares his joys, and tells us about his successes and his failures. Or he recreates us with trivial aspects of his daily life such as playing with a pet weasel or his preference for 7 as a fetish number. He mentions his parents, Ferdinand III the Saint, and the cultured Beatrix of Swabia, a first cousin of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Or his brother, the infante Don Fadrique – whom he ordered to be killed.
The songs are the jewel in his crown, and so powerful that he sent for them once he fell ill in Vitoria, getting cured after putting them on. Days before his death he testified that they be deposited in the church where he was buried. The codices that we know, except the Toledano, remained in the Cathedral of Seville for years, where he died (1284) and was buried-his body because his heart and viscera are in Murcia-, but finally his fate was another. What matters is that the King of Toledo's Cántigas de Santa María contain the most important musical lyrical repertoire of medieval Europe. Robert I. Borns, an American Jesuit medievalist scholar who did a study on the projection in America of the cultural legacy of the wise king, would say of his author: «no other medieval king, not even his relative the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II -great protector of science and culture - could boast of such an extensive and lofty work of creation. Those who know the lyrics of Alfonso X, the secular and the Marian, consider him the greatest of the poet kings».