To mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of Alfonso X of Castille, considered by many historians, as one of the most important kings in Spanish history, Queen Sofia has opened an exhibition of his library collection at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial.
The vast collection includes manuscripts, historical texts, religious illustrations, medical books, histories of Spain, as well as rules for games such as chess, dice and other table pastimes.
Alfonso X, King of Castile, León and Galicia was born in 1221 and reigned over his three Iberian kingdoms from 1252 until his death in 1284.
He was known as “El Sabio” or “The Wise” for literary, historical, legal and scientific work he encouraged during his reign.
Alfonso encouraged the development of a cosmopolitan court that brought in Jews, Muslims, and Christians to foster learning.
Many of the works he commissioned were also translations from Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin into the vernacular of Castile including texts by Aristotle and Ptolemy to Latin.
Alfonso’s scientific interests earned him the nicknamed the Astrologer —led him to sponsor the creation of the Alfonsine tables, and the Alphonsus crater on the moon is named after him.
He is credited with the first vernacular law code in Spain, the Siete Partidas.
“In the library, we have seven codices belonging to the time of the King (Alfonso X) that he ordered, that he promoted, and that he probably even had in his hands. Therefore, there are seven codices from the 13th century but they do not include all the fields that interested him, because, for example, astrology is one of his first most passionate vocations,” says Jose Luis Del Valle, the director de Royal Library of the Monastery of El Escorial.
The seven codices are the “Codex Rico,” the “Codex of the musicians,” two “Cantigas de Santa María,” the two codices of “Estoria de España” (history of Spain), the “Lapidary,” the “Book of forms and images,” and the “Book of chess, dice and table games.”
One of the highlights is the “Cantigas de Santa María,” which are a European repertoire of lyrics and medieval folklore.
It’s a collection of 400 poems written in Galician-Portuguese, accompanied by musical annotations and illustrations.
The “Cantigas” or songs talk about miracles said to be performed by the Virgin Mary for people who asked for her help.
Experts underline the great value of these images to understand the musical instruments of the era, but also to the daily preoccupations of the 13th century: buildings, clothing, armies, people ploughing fields and boats.
“We are able to see many characters in the chess book (Codex de ajedrez) and therefore we are going to have a lot of knowledge about that time thanks to these characters: their clothes, the architectures that are represented. In the game of dice, another type of character appears. It is a game of chance and therefore the intellect that appears in the game of chess here is lost,” says Del Valle.
The exhibition runs until the end of February 2022.