This article reviews the evidence for the medieval performance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (CSM) and discusses King Alfonso's intentions for the work, including the intended audience. The CSM were conceived as an ambitious cultural enterprise with both religious and political objectives, but were doomed to failure by the steep political decline of their creator. The only surviving evidence for the CSM's presence in any court outside Alfonso's is the Barbieri MS, an eighteenth-century descendant of a lost original, plausibly transmitted to the Portuguese court before 1270. Other traces of performative use are rubrics and marginal notes in an appendix to manuscript To and their corresponding reworking in manuscript E, which point to short-lived ritual use. Internal iconographical, literary, and compositional evidence suggests that Alfonso did intend the CSM to circulate among a broad range of social classes. He manipulated poetic and metrical forms from the troubadour tradition to highlight the dignity of the Virgin Mary, but he privileged forms directly inspired by the Andalusian zajal familiar to popular audiences and among the minstrels, to encourage the penetration of his songs beyond his courtly circle. The CSM were meant to consolidate Christian restoration in the recently conquered southern territories, but also to serve as personal and dynastic propaganda, asserting their author's royal supremacy over Castilian lords, his preeminence among Iberian kings, and his status as the Christian monarch most worthy of the office of Holy Roman emperor.
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