The Song of the Sibyl, the traditional musical performance
The song performed on Christmas Eve in Mallorca is one the most identifiable celebratory songs on the island
Declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2010, El Cant de la Sibil•la (the Song of the Sibyl), a song with medieval origins and Gregorian melody, was introduced to the island by James I “The Conquistador” and became the most unique Christmas tradition.
On the 24th December, a song hushes those attending the traditional Matines, Majorcan midnight mass. This song, known as the Song of the Sibyl, dating back to medieval times, has managed to survive over the years in Mallorca and L’Alguer.
Introduced in the main island of the Balearics after James I’s conquest, it prophesises the arrival of the Redeemer and the Final Judgement. What is probably Mallorca’s most ancient and notable Christmas tradition, it is sung without instruments, except for the preludes between each verse. Whilst initially sung in Latin, there is evidence of the first version appearing in Catalan by the end of the 14th century. The tune, of medieval origin, has been transformed and adapted throughout the centuries as it has been passed on by mouth, practically right up to the present day.
It is lead by only one person wearing a tunic, occasionally embroidered around the neck and the hem, and normally paired with a cape. The impressive attire is completed with a sword held steadily in front of their face until the song is over, when a cross is drawn in the air.
The Sibyl figure represents the fortune-tellers whose prophetic books were consulted on in the ancient world to know the future of a community. Christianity adopted this figure and incorporated it as another Christmas liturgy element.
Each Christmas Eve the Song of the Sibyl rouses practically all of Mallorca’s municipalities, being one of the most attended and biggest traditional Matines held in the Sanctuary of Lluc and the Palma cathedral.
Acclaimed as one of the most unique phenomenon and most important in recent Majorcan musical history due to it convergence of popular tradition and art music, it was not surprisingly declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010.
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