The chant of the Sybil
© Redacción Book Style

This chant of medieval origin, declared Intangible World Heritage, is performed on Christmas Eve in most churches in Mallorca.

The chant of the Sybil is one of the most traditional features of Christmas on Mallorca. It is a medieval dramatization the roots of which lie in Catalonia, and it came to Mallorca in the 13th century after the conquest of the island by Jaume I. Manuscripts of the text from the 10th century are preserved, and it was formerly performed throughout the peninsula until it was prohibited by the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. Since then, it has only survived on Mallorca and in Alghero (Sardinia).

It is the chant of the poem Judicii Signum on the prophecies of the Erythraean Sybil. In medieval liturgies, their reading was accompanied by a theatrical performance in which the Sybil prophesied the coming of Jesus Christ as judge and described the end of the world. Initially it was sung in Latin and with a Gregorian melody, but after the 13th century versions in Catalan are documented. And in the 19th century, the melodies that have come down to us today were established on scores. 

In spite of the prohibitions, in Mallorca the bishop allowed the chant again in 1575, albeit outside the liturgy, to which it returned four centuries afterwards as a result of the Second Vatican Council. Nowadays it is held in most of the churches of Mallorca during Midnight Mass, and the performance in Palma cathedral is spectacular. It is usually performed by a boy, a girl or a woman dressed in a tunic and cape, holding a sword up in front of their face as they sing. In 2005 it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and five years later, UNESCO included it on its list of Intangible World Heritage.

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