At the end of the 1980s, a group of former students of the María Cristina Royal University Center stole from the basilica of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial several pages of one of the 221 cantorales – large-format musical manuscripts – that Felipe II ordered to be made. for the choir of the monastery. The National Police have now found one of them, specifically the one that corresponded to page 8 of the so-called Cantoral 140. It was owned by an individual who lives in Murcia.
The recovered piece is a “parchment sheet with inscriptions in Gothic script and musical notations dated from the 16th century,” according to a police note. The investigations began when the agents received information about the robbery that occurred 40 years ago. In this way, the person who possessed one of these stolen documents was located, which was deposited in police stations and, later, delivered to the Madrid monastery.
The hymnal from which the parchments were taken was made up of 58 paginated sheets, in addition to another three unnumbered containing the Veni Creator ―hymn in honor of the Holy Spirit― at the profession of a novice or at the time when the applicant decided to accept admission. in religious life.
This collection of choral books was made by different writers, miniaturists and bookbinders. Felipe II wanted to endow the monastery with a large musical collection, which included four impressive organs built by the flamenco artist Gilies Brevoz. The monarch was also a great bibliophile, which led him to acquire an important set of choral books and commission them starting in 1564.
The choir books or hymnals are the large pieces in which psalms, antiphons or masses that were interpreted in the choir appear written. The chant that was used is the so-called Gregorian, originating from the first centuries of Christianity. Spain and Italy were the two countries in which there was a great development of this type of works. Possessing them gave great prestige, which is why in the 15th century almost all religious centers had them, according to the study Six cantorales from the time of Philip II, by Mercedes Moreno González, from the University of Alcalá de Henares.
To make these works, parchments were used which, in the case of the Escorial monastery, were brought from Valencia by the merchant Damián Exarque, “who offered them at a good price and quality”. The choral books in the San Lorenzo library were written by different master calligraphers, such as Cristóbal Ramírez, who began to prepare them on June 21, 1566. Other masters who participated in the works were Francisco Femández, Pedro Salaverte and Pedro Gómez. “Most of the writers had extensive experience in writing choir books, acquired in other highly prestigious writing firms, which undoubtedly must have influenced the monarch to hire them,” says Moreno González.
The decoration of the specimens was carried out by miniaturists or illuminators, who were capable of creating true works of art. They were not limited only to drawing floral letters or geometric ornaments, but also authentic scenes that reproduced themes about festivities or passages from the Old and New Testaments.
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