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Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Music - Blasphemy, Cursing and Sonic Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria

Henry Drummond, University of Oxford


Thursday, 21 November - 5:00pm



Of all sins one could commit in the Middle Ages, few were as grave as blasphemy. Medieval writers describe blasphemy as violent, claiming that such acts re-enact the mutilation of Christ’s body, or spoil the Virgin’s corporeal perfection. Other authorities see logical dissonance in the denial of holy miracles, and in the rejection of God’s supremacy. While scholars have written much on medieval blasphemy, few studies have approached the links between religious sacrilege and song. Sonic propriety can itself be violated, affording mirroring of written warnings against blasphemous acts. In this article I focus on the cantigas de miragre, written at the court of Alfonso X in the latter years of his reign (1252–84). Alfonsine literature includes multiple warnings against blasphemy, including its links with drinking, gaming and music. In this talk, I address miracle songs of the Alfonsine court that present nuanced cases, considering how disjointed musical-poetic structures can intriguingly mirror warnings against blasphemous oaths conveyed in their texts.