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Articles > The Canticles of Holy Mary and the Galician-Portuguese language

by Alexis Ulrich  LinkedIn

In this article, I will present you the Canticles of Holy Mary, which are religious songs from the 13th century written in Galician-Portuguese. But as an introduction, so you can know what it is all about, let us listen to one of these canticles, “Como Deus fez vynno d’agua”.

Cantiga 23: Como Deus fez vynno d’agua
00:00
Esta é como Santa María acrecentou o vyo no tonel, por amor da bõa dona de Bretanna
00:57
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.
01:09
Desto direi un miragre que fez en Bretanna
Santa Maria por hûa dona mui sen sanna,
en que muito bon costum’ e muita bõa manna
Deus posera, que quis dela seer seu vezyo.
01:31
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.
01:42
Sobre toda-las bondades que ela avia,
era que muito fiava en Santa Maria;
e porende a tirou de vergonna un dia
del Rei, que a ssa casa vêera de camyo.
02:41
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.
02:54
A dona polo servir foi muit’ afazendada,
e deu-lle carn’ e pescado e pan e cevada;
mas de bon vyo pera el era mui menguada,
ca non tîia senon pouco en un tonelcyo.
03:26
E dobrava-xe-ll’ a coita, ca pero quisesse
ave-lo, non era end’ en terra que podesse
por dîeiros nen por outr’ aver que por el desse
se non fosse pola Madre do Vell’ e Menîo.
03:49
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.
04:00
E con aquest’ asperança foi aa eigreja
e diss’ “Ai, Santa Maria, ta mercee seja
que me saques daquesta vergonna tan sobeja;
se non, nunca vestirei ja mais lãa nen lyo.”
04:22
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.
04:33
Mantenent’ a oraçon da dona foi oyda,
e el Rei e ssa companna toda foi conprida
de bon vinn’, e a adega non en foi falida
que non achass’ y avond’ o riqu’ e o mesqyo.
04:55
Como Deus fez vyo d’agua ant’ Archetecryo,
ben assi depois sa Madr’ acrecentou o o vinno.

The Canticles

Historical context

In 1139, Afonso Henriques self-proclaims King of Portugal after the battle of Ourique against the Moors, which was finalized by the Treaty of Zamora in 1143. We are in the Middle Ages, at the time of the Reconquest, and the Kingdom of Portugal is being created as the territories are reconquered. But the king is still the vassal of the king Alfonso VII of León and Castile, and will remain so until 1179, when Pope Alexander II will recognize him the right to make him a direct homage. The last episode of the Portuguese reconquest will be the inclusion of the province of the Algarve in 1249.

Troubadourism

Troubadourism is the name of the movement centered on the troubadour, a poet of noble origin who composes canticles, or sung poems, and the melodies to accompany them. The canticles were also performed by jugglers, persons not belonging to the nobility (villains). They were professional artists performing in public places to entertain the crowds and also in the castles of lords. These troubadours sang in Occitan in the south of the actual France, and in Galician-Portuguese in Portugal and Galicia.


Cantiga 42: A Virgen mui groriosa
00:00
Esta é de como o crerizon meteu o anel eno dedo da omagen de Santa María, e a omagen encolleu o dedo con el.
00:26
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
00:41
Dest’ un miragre fremoso, ond’ averedes sabor,
vos direy, que fez a Virgem, Madre de Nostro Sennor,
per que tirou de gran falla a un mui falss’ amador,
que amyude cambiava seus amores dun en al.
01:10
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
01:25
Foi en terra d’Alemanna que querian renovar
hûas gentes ssa eigreja, e poren foran tirar
a majestad’ ende fora, que estava no altar,
e posérona na porta da praça, sso o portal.
02:08
Este donzel, con gran medo de xe l’o anel torcer
ando feriss’ a pelota, foy buscar u o põer
podess’; e viu a omage tan fremosa parecer,
e foi-llo meter no dedo, dizend’: “Oi mais non m’enchal.
02:37
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
02:51
Daquela que eu amava, ca eu ben o jur’ a Deus
que nunca tan bela cousa viron estes ollos meus;
poren daqui adeante serei eu dos servos teus,
e est’ anel tan fremoso ti dou porend’ en sinal.”
03:19
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
03:34
E da Virgen groriosa nunca depois se nenbrou,
mas da amiga primeira outra vez sse namorou,
e per prazer dos parentes logo con ela casou
e sabor do outro mundo leixou polo terreal.
04:03
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
04:17
Poi-las vodas foron feitas e o dia sse sayu,
deitou-ss’ o novio primeiro e tan toste ss’adormyu;
e el dormindo, en sonnos a Santa Maria vyu,
que o chamou mui sannuda: “Ai, meu falss’e mentiral!”
04:46
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.
05:00
Enton ss’ espertou o novio, e desto tal medo pres
que ss’ergeu e foi ssa via, que non chamou dous nen tres
omêes que con el fossen; e per montes mais dun mes
andou, e an un’ hermida se meteu cab’ un pîal.
05:30
A Virgen mui groriosa, reyna espirital,
dos que ama é ceosa, ca non quer que façan mal.

The Canticles of Holy Mary

Description

The Canticles of Holy Mary (Cantigas de Santa Maria) are a set of 427 compositions in Galician-Portuguese, which was during the 13th century the main language of lyrical culture in Castile. They have been sponsored by Alfonso X the Wise, king of Castile and León from 1252 to 1284. Himself wrote a few canticles and he composed some accompaniments of this songbook on the wonders and miracles of the Virgin.

They are divided into two groups: the Canticles of Our Lady, a set of stories and miracles, and the Canticles of Praise, numbered with a multiple of ten, more akin to sacred hymns, poems of reflection on the Virgin. Being the mother of Jesus, and with a human figure closer to us than may be the Trinity, she takes a role of intercession and forgives sins.

At the present time, the Canticles are scattered in three places: one manuscript at the National Library of Spain, in Toledo, one at the library of El Escorial, near Madrid, and two in Florence, Italy.

Content

The stated purpose of the king Alfonso X is announced in the prologue B:

E o que quero é dizer loor da Virgen, Madre de nostro Sennor… e por aquest seu quero seer oy máis seu trobador e rogó-lle que me queira por seu trobador e que queira meu trobar receber…

Which can be translated as:

And what I want is to praise the Virgin, the Mother of our Lord… and for this, I only want to be today her troubadour, and I pray that she accepts me as her troubadour and that she deigns to receive my verses.

In addition to the primary objective described by Alfonso X in this prologue, the Canticles of Holy Mary were a way to fix the different versions of the miracles to make them better known. Thus, the people who could neither read nor write could learn the miracles in their own language, Galician-Portuguese, whereas Latin was still used in the churches.

Some canticles have their roots in the personal experiences of the king, in a disguised hagiography in which he expresses his spirituality, his thoughts and the person he would like to be. For example, in the canticle 300 (Muito devería óme sempr’ a loar), he says that “For her he will compose, while taking care and looking how he could honor her” (por ela vou trobar, e cuidando e buscando como a póssa onrrar).


Cantiga 129: De todo mal e de toda ferida
01:16
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
01:27
Dest’ a un ome que de Murvedr’ era
mostrou a Virgen maravilla fera
dûa gran saetada que presera
en hûa lide forte sen medida.
01:47
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
01:57
E a saeta assi ll’ acertara
pelo ollo, que logo llo britara
e ben ate eno toutiço entrara,
de guisa que lle non põyan vida.
02:17
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
02:47
Mas ele pos sa alm’ e sa fazenda
ena Virgen e deu-xe-ll’ en comenda,
e a Salas prometeu offerenda
se el da chaga ouvesse guarida.
03:06
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
03:17
E logo mandou a saeta fora
tirar do ollo, e en essa ora
guariu de todo logo sen demora,
des que a saeta en foi sayda,
que da saetada ren non sentia;
des i do ollo atan ben guaria
que ben com’ ante vira del viia.
E pera Salas fez logo sa ida,
03:56
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
04:25
loand’ a Virgen santa groriosa,
Madre de Deus, Reyna poderosa,
que o sãara como piadosa.
E esta cousa foi mui lonj’ oyda
04:45
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.
04:56
pelas terras; e quantos lo souberon
a Santa Maria loores deron
de Salas, e mui gran sabor ouveron
de fazer log’ a ela ssa vîida.
05:15
De todo mal e de toda ferida
sãar pod’ om’ a de ben mui comprida.

Language

Evolution of languages

In his court in Toledo, Alfonso X brought together Christians, Jews and Muslims to translate texts from Antiquity. In addition to this, he realized the first orthography reform of Castilian, codifying its spelling. For instance, he duplicated the n to render the sound [gn], which was written by the copyists as the Castilian ñ. He also adopted Castilian as official language instead of Latin.

Troubadourism was important in his family: his grandson, the king Denis who reigned over Portugal between 1279 and 1325, was also a troubadour. 137 of his canticles made to this day. He created the first Portuguese university, initially in Lisbon, then transferred to Coimbra in 1308. There, were taught arts, civil and canon law, medicine.

He gave the name of Portuguese to Galician-Portuguese which was from 1290 the language of the court.

With the political division of Portugal in the south and Galicia in the north, Portuguese and Galician evolved differently. Portuguese gained more vocabulary from Arabic, like for instance açucar (as-sukkar, sugar), arroz (ar-ruz, rice), azeite (az-zait, oil)… or names of places and regions, like the Algarve (Al-Gharb), Alcântara (al-qantara, bridge, viaduct)…

On its side, Galician got castilianized from the 15th century on, with the Castilian domination, as it lost its use in official records, a period called the “Obscure centuries” which lasted until the middle of the 19th century.

Detail

Galician-Portuguese

There are now in Galicia two linguistic currents: reintegrationism and isolationism.

The reintegrationists consider Galician and Portuguese as a single language, separated by the history of the territories, and want to change the Galician orthography to reunite the two branches.

A subgroup, the lusists, wants to follow the spelling rules of Portuguese in Galician-Portuguese, while the others want to include these changes more slowly. The independentists use the reintegrationist spelling since 1985.

For the isolationists, represented by the Royal Galician Academy, the public institution that promotes the Galician language, Galician is a language in itself.

Thus, the question of language is a question of linguistic, cultural and political identity.

Linguistic continuum

Catalan, Aragonese, Castilian, Eonavian, Fala, Galician-Portuguese, Portuguese… All these languages come from Latin and have similarities that make them mutually intelligible or intercomprehensible to some extent.

When you know a few sounds change rules between these languages and with a little practice, it is possible to read all the languages of the Iberian Peninsula, the different Occitans, the official Italian and all its dialects, all the way to Romanian.

The boundaries between languages are artificial for those who want to break free of them.

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