Las Cantigas de Santa Maria

Las Cantigas de Santa Maria is a manuscript made up of four codices that depicts the daily life, religious beliefs, music, customs, and art from the 13th century, of the courts of Castile and Leon in Northern Spain. In codex J.b.2, there are approximately four hundred and twenty-seven compositions in honor of the Virgin Mary; with every tenth cantigas (song) beginning with a miniature; an illumination of musicians playing instruments. I had begun embroidering again, and had found two images from this codex that I had used the Split stitch with. Then I learned the Laid Work stitch at a local Fiber Arts Guild, and I thought it would be interesting to apply this technique to a medieval picture. The musicians and instruments were a great match, and I have been busy finding more images to embroider over the years.

Christian and Moor musicians playing guitar-like instruments
Christian and Moor musicians playing guitar-like instruments


This picture I call Christian and Moor Playing Guitar-Like Instruments, for I don’t believe I have found titles for each of these miniatures. I have seen this image in several different books and on web sites, and each time I saw it, the eyes of the Moor musician were scratched out. It was a thrilling experience to put his eyes back in as I embroidered him in this patch. My favorite resource for this image I found as a tile that was tipped-in to the book. The book is volume one of a 2-book set entitled: Spain: A Musician’s Journey through time and space by Walter Starkie.

Musicians taking direction from King Alfonso the Wise


This picture is actually a fifth of the original. I took a long image from Las Cantigas de Santa Maria that depicts King Alfonso the Wise directing his musicians and scribes as he writes a cantigas for the Virgin Mary. This panel is of some of the musicians with the center image being of the king.

Scribe taking direction from King Alfonso the Wise
Scribe taking direction from King Alfonso the Wise
King Alfonso the Wise directing his scribes and musicians
King Alfonso the Wise directing his scribes and musicians


This is the picture of King Alfonso the Wise directing his scribes and musicians. I am very impressed with the artists’ paintings in this manuscript and have thoroughly enjoyed reading about this king, the music of his era, and embroidering the patches from the miniatures. This image and the one above it I have found in black and white as well in color, in many of the resources listed in the Resources panel of this blog. However, the image I ended up using came from the book: The Learned King: The Reign of Alfonso X of Castile, by Joseph F. O’Callaghan.

Christians playing viol-like instruments
Christians playing viol-like instruments


I call this patch; Two Christians playing Viol-like Instruments. This back ground has always been hard for me to capture, as based on the quality of the scan, I may or may not get a design that is clear enough to embroider. When I look at these patches I sometimes think that they are crude and not clear enough. However, as the scanning technology and graphic arts software improve and become more affordable for me, I feel that the images will become clearer and thus easier to embroider. This image I found in the book: The World of Medieval and Renaissance Musical Instruments by Jeremy Montagu.

Las Cantigas de Santa Maria is an amazing manuscript that tells us about the people of that time and region, giving us not only colorful images of people, animals, buildings, clothing, and traditions, it also gives us music that can be played and learned today. There are pages of poems, songs, and musical notation that have been translated and learned, and recorded on DVD for those interested. It is a wealth of knowledge, so much so that there is a Centre for the Study of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Oxford University, created in 2005. Look for the link on the side panel under Related Links.

By Julie Carmen

Created a medieval screen from repurposed bi-fold doors, window drapes, and some used embroidery floss. The screen is 10 feet wide and 7 feet tall. A way to display page-size embroidered patches featuring medieval scenes.

1 comment

  1. Dear Julie –

    As somebody interested in new ways to look at Medieval art, you should be in touch with the calligraphic community, and especially be aware of Donald Jackson’s Saint John’s Bible. Check it out at If you Google calligraphy, calligraphy guild, and variations on the theme, you will find a wealth of information about people who are bringing the arts of calligraphy and illumination into the 21st century.

    Have fun!

    – Anne

    Anne T. Lane

    Collections Manager

    704.568.1774 x110 phone

    704.566.1817 fax

    The Charlotte Museum of History and Hezekiah Alexander Homesite

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    3500 Shamrock Drive

    Charlotte, NC 28215-3214

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