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Las Cantigas de Santa Maria: Thirteenth-Century Popular Culture and Acts of Subversion

Description: Across medieval Europe, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain traced a lattice web of popular culture. From the lowest peasant to the greatest king and churchmen, the devout walked pathways that created an economy and contributed to a social and political climate of change. Central to this impulse of piety and wanderlust was the veneration of the Virgin Mary. She was, however, not the iconic Mother of the New Testament whose character, actions, and very name are nearly absent from that first-century compilation of texts. As characterized in the words of popular songs and tales, the mariales, she was a robust saint who performed acts of healing that exceeded those miracles of Jesus described in the Bible. Unafraid and authoritative, she confronted demons and provided judgement that reached beyond the understanding and mercy of medieval codes of law. Holding out the promise of protection from physical and spiritual harm, she attracted denizens of admirers who included poets, minstrels, and troubadours like Nigel of Canterbury, John of Garland, Gonzalo de Berceo, and Gautier de Coinci. They popularized her cult across Europe; pilgrims sang their songs and celebrated the new attributes of Mary. This dissertation uses the greatest collection of these songs, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria compiled in the thirteenth century under the direction of Alfonso X, King of Castile and Leon, to construct the history of a lay piety movement deeply rooted in medieval popular culture. Making the transition from institutionalized, doctrinal saint to popular heroine, Mary becomes a subversive conduit through which culture moved from Latin poetry to vernacular verse and from the monasteries of scholasticism to the popular pathway of Wycliffite reform.
Date: August 2016
Creator: Coats, Jerry Brian