- The Rosary Cantoral: Ritual and Social Design in a Chantbook from Early Renaissance Toledo
Lorenzo Candelaria’s study of MS 710, acquired by the Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1989, reads like a detective story—which it is, in actuality. The author’s fascinating account of searching out the provenance, context, and significance of this extraordinary chantbook highlights perfectly what mesmerizes medievalists. Looking for clues and tracking leads (including false ones), the researcher tries to unlock the mystery of a manuscript. Only by reconstructing the scene of the event—applying the tools of various disciplines—can one come close to understanding “whodunit” and why.
The Beineke’s MS 710 is a monumental artifact. Measuring approximately 3 feet by 2 feet (each leaf requiring an entire calf skin), the manuscript’s exact provenance and history were little understood at the time of its acquisition in 1989. Claims that it was from Switzerland and Franciscan turned out to be false. By carefully comparing contents and purchase records of eight single-leaf fragments in other public and private collections, the author traced the chantbook to the monastery of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo, Spain, where it was first used c.1498 in the ritual and for services of a rosary confraternity of silk weavers.
The second stage of the investigation stitches together the background of the work: the history of Toledo’s San Pedro Mártir Dominican community, the Inquisition, early printers of buleta (for a crusade against the Moors), and the religious lay brotherhood of silk weavers who owned the manuscript. In chapter 3, evidence is gathered from an illustration—common to most of the eight related manuscript fragments—of the legend of “The Gentleman of Cologne,” a tale that had particular significance for this brotherhood. The legend can be traced back through versions in Germany, France, and Portugal, as far as “Las Cantigas de Santa María” of Alfonso X (1221–84), king of Castile.
Other clues in chapters 4 and 5 deal with the history of the rosary confraternity, the make-up of its membership, the emblem of the Five Wounds of Christ, and—rather surprisingly—the manuscript’s images of two of the Labors of Hercules (one copied from an engraving c. 1498 by Albrecht Dürer). Chapter 6 turns to musical clues found in the manuscript’s unusual tropes, its incorporation of polyphony at particular points, its contrafacture of the [End Page 618] famous tune “L’homme armé,” and an excerpt from Josquin Desprez’s (c. 1455–1521) work, the “Missa sine nomine.”
Yet it is the last chapter that brings the payoff, surprising the reader and unlocking the significance of this manuscript as a witness to a pivotal period in Spanish history. It illustrates not only a culture at an intellectual and religious crossroad, the contradictory intersection of medieval and Renaissance ideas, but also is witness to a fateful intercultural conflict, tragically intertwined with the religious one, that marks the darkest chapter of Spanish history. The rituals, images, and meanings embodied in this book represent conflicts surprisingly relevant in our own day. Candelaria’s sensitive multidisciplinary reading of the work constitutes a fine example of how a cultural artifact from 500 years ago speaks to our own time.