Mystery Play of Elche
The Misterio de Elche (Spanish pronunciation: [misˈteɾjo ˈðe ˈeltʃe]), in English the Mystery Play of Elche or Elche Mystery Play and in Valencian Misteri d'Elx (Valencian pronunciation: [misˈtɛɾi ˈðɛʎtʃ]), is a liturgical drama dating from the Middle Ages, which is enacted and celebrated in the Basilica de Santa María in the city of Elche on 14 and 15 August of each year. In 2001, UNESCO declared it one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It commemorates the Assumption of Mary.
Two stories exist regarding the date of creation of the Elche play. The most ancient and strange locates its origins in the 13th century, and was first proposed by Cristobal Sanz, author of a history of the city, at the beginning of the 17th century. After confessing that he had not been able to prove his history, he proposed that the earliest inhabitants of the city had celebrated it in 1276. He also adds another older story: after the conquest of the city by king James I the Conqueror (1265), the inhabitants of the city conceived the idea of a Mystery Play on the day the city was retaken from the Moors. In 1717 José Antón, Attorney General of the Marquisate of Elche, repeated this last idea, but added a miraculous aspect: the arrival on a beach of Elche of a mysterious ark in May, 1266, containing the image of the Virgin of the Assumption and the Consueta (the book that contains the text and occasionally the music of the play).
This story was maintained in part to excuse a possible mistake of the composer Óscar Esplá (1886–1976), who asserted that in 1924, he had been shown a letter of 1266 authorizing the play, which was preserved in the Municipal Archives of Elche, despite the fact that it has never been seen since or even cited. The work carried out by Esplá, and his importance as a composer, revived the theory of the play's origin in the 13th century.
Nevertheless, since the end of the 19th century, when the first historians arrived at Elche and studied the play, the date of its composition started to be located at the end of the 14th century, and the beginning of the 15th. At present, most scholars of La Festa, from multiple points of view: literary, theatrical, musical, linguistics, iconographic, etc., agree to date it to the second half of the 15th century, without emphasizing the precedents in existence in the city.
The Heaven The great linen, located at the height of the ring of the dome, fulfills the double function of representing the sky and concealing the mechanisms that permit the ascent and descent of the aerial stage devices. Its antiquity is possibly as old as current play, since as early as 1530, older stage directions already seem to indicate its presence.
The linen also separates the celestial actions from the earthly, and possesses a peep-hole called "the door to heaven" that is opened and closed three times during the play to admit the aerial stage device.
The Pomegranate The appliance intended to transport the Angel with the palm to Mary, to show her the way to ascend is called la magrana or the pomegranate.
In its current form, the device dates the second half of the 16th century, and its structure, as well its name, is reminiscent of mechanisms of the era, commonly used in Spain, such as boxes, globes, and armillary spheres.
Until recently, the term pomegranate was thought to be quite modern, the result of having changed the traditional color (blue) to the current (red). The term cloud was considered to be more ancient and correct. Modern investigations have suggested that the name pomegranate arose in the 16th century, possibly because of the replacement of a less substantial appliance, built with cotton, paper, and fabrics, with the current more compact and sturdy appliance.
The Araceli enters the scene on two occasions. First, the angels descend to carry the soul of Mary to heaven, and appear to the apostles, who organized a procession to bury her body. In the second, great final scene, angel with the soul is replaced by the image of Mary, and she is crowned at the halfway point of her ascension to the Heaven by the Holy Trinity.
The Araceli is not a statue unique to the mystery play. It is similar to sculptures of the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.
The Corridor is the name of the great walkway that, extending the entire length of the building, connects the cadafal with the principal door of the basilica. Its importance is largely symbolic. Primarily, it is the only physical element that permits the entire church to be converted into a dramatic action framework; secondarily, the walkway is the road that permits communication between the earthly and the divine. It is the symbolic representation of the spiritual road that everyone travels.
Mary also travels this path, symbolizing that she carries out the ideal of the Christianity, to experience the Passion of Jesus.
The Cadafal is the platform on which a large part of the play takes place. It is located in the central section of the nave, but extends in part into the choir to connect the sepulcher with the shaft of the Door of Heaven.
It is totally covered in wood, to conceal from the public the hollow that it contains, where the actors change costumes, etc.
The term cadafal appears early on in the first reports of mystery plays in the interior of churches with an invariable meaning: dais or platform where the dramatic action takes place.
In Elche, the cadafal is, in words of Quirante Santacruz, "Mary's area, which contains the places that are hers exclusively, her house and her tomb. Here, the Virgin experiences all the process of sacralization and glorification that contains the work, it is the only place where celestial personages and earthly people live together".
The Consueta The term "consueta", a combination of the words Consuetudine and Ordinatio, refers to the manuscripts of the liturgical ceremonies. Those manuscripts contain precious annotations on stage directions, musical score, and stage devices, and date from as early as 1625.
Normal August 14 is "La Vesprà". This first session represents the death of Mary, surrounded by the apostles. August 15 is "La Festa", the plot of which is the burial, assumption and coronation of the Virgin. Also on August 15, at 10 o'clock, "El Misteri" takes place in the street: the procession of the "El Soterrar" (interment) of Mary, with the songs of "La Festa" and participation of the actors.
Prior to this, there have been a whole series of actions that lead up to these days of August and to the world of "La Festa".
On the 6th of August, in the Room of the Council, "la prova de veus" (test of voices) takes place, to select those who will sing "El Misteri", showing that the City Council, and not the church authorities, financially support "La Festa" of Elx.
On the 10th of August, at six o'clock of the afternoon, in the basilica, "la prova de l'àngel" (test of the angel) is conducted to choose children resistant to dizziness and, therefore, able to descend from the dome, in the interior of the aerial stage devices.
Extraordinary The days 11th, 12th and 13th take place the so-called "Assajos generals", that are extraordinary representations.
- Misteri d'Elx / Misterio de Elche. Consueta de 1709. Maricarmen Gómez & Francesc Massip. Tirant lo Blanch. Valencia. 2010 (ISBN 978-84-9876-739-1)
- Web del Patronato Nacional del Misteri d'Elx - Misterio de Elche
- La Tramoia
- Tribute to the "Mystery of Elche" by Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya
- UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site (in English)