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3 The history of the alabados now sung in New Mexico is important, but for our purposes it is best relegated to a note.1 More significant for our purposes are the human and religious needs and aspirations, the hopes and fears, that endure through the ages. Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús iThe newly ordained Franciscan friar,Antonio Margil de Jesús (1657–1726), sailed from Spain to Veracruz in 1683 and threw himself into every possible sort of activity for the conversion and sanctification of anyone who would listen. He especially made a practice of teaching Catholic doctrine in the form of prayer-songs and hymns praising the heavenly personages . A contemporary described how Margil’s efforts led to “a constant saying of rosaries in the streets and in houses so that the entire population became a choir of angels at the breaking of dawn, at the noon bell, and at the [evening] prayer. All sang praises in harmonious voices to Jesus as sacrament,to his most holy mother, and to glorious Saint Joseph, with other hymns that the great charity of the Reverend Friar Antonio taught them and impressed upon their hearts, inciting such devotion that even childrentwoyearsoldandoldersangtheminourlanguage unto everyone’s great edification” (Felis de Espinosa 1737, 208). The later alabado tradition of New Spain and Mexico stemmed largely from Margil de Jesús. Following his example, men and women in monasteries , convents, priories, colleges, seminaries, and rectories turned their knowledge of scripture, theology (or at least catechism), Church history, saints’ lives, and above all practical spirituality into songs to evangelize and catechize the large, relatively unlettered Indian and mestizo populations. The The Sources of the Alabados 1. The Spanish past participle alabado was the opening word of a well-known hymn of praise to the Eucharist,“Alabado sea el santísimo/Sacramento del altar” (Praised be the most holy/Sacrament of the altar).Alabado came to mean any narrative hymn about Jesus’ suffering and death, then broadened to include any hymn, the narratives of saints’ lives, prayers of all sorts, and devotional lyrics meditating on a few chosen moments of the passion. The New Mexican alabado grew out of the laudi of the Late Medieval Italian era. Especially during Holy Week, large popular processions sang the praises of Jesus for his willingness to die forthe sins of his people. These hymns soon influenced the traditional secular ballads of Spain, the romances, and produced a type of sacred narrative poetry that derived from the monastic and mendicant spiritualities of the late Middle Ages (1000–1415), an approach to the divine that emphasized the changing human nature of Christ during his suffering and death. With the opening of the New World, lay and clerical emigrants to New Spain transferred the twin ballad traditions to the European, Native American, and mestizo populations. The secular romances of Spain became the corridos of New Spain and Mexico, and the religious romances became the alabados. 02 Alabados 3-7 5/20/05 12:14 PM Page 3 4 THE ALABADOS authors of these early alabado texts wrote primarily neither for their own devotion nor for the benefit of their equally educated peers, and most of the texts of the alabados sung in New Mexico for the past two centuries were composed in southern New Spain and Mexico. Talented devout people imitated the religious romances of peninsular Spain and created the alabados of New Spain. These religious ballads led to other related types of hymns, especially lyrical texts designed to help people meditate on divine truths and realities, praise the sacraments, warn of unprepared death, and glorify Mary, the angels, and the saints (Stark 1983, 25–26). The alabados sung in New Mexico—written for the most part in New Spain and Mexico—were a literary type resembling oral tradition, which could effectively convey Roman Catholic doctrine to the people of New Spain, for the most part unsophisticated subsistence farmers and small-scale stockmen, some of whose ancestors had converted only a few generations earlier from tribal religions to Christianity . The peoples of New Mexico took much of their spirituality from the alabados; as Juan B. Rael said, “Alabados are sung not only at the religious feasts which have just been described but also in many humble homes as part of the days’ routine. This custom , of course, is not general, but in homes where it is observed, hymns are sung at dawn, at noon, and at nightfall” (Rael 1951, 17–18). In...


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