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Merry Mallorcan Christmas

The song of the Sybil


As I'm clocking off for Christmas shortly, here's my last article for the year which is about a beautiful, centuries-old Christmas tradition which takes place in almost every Mallorcan church. It's 'The Song of the Sybil,' (El Cant de la Sibil·la in Catalan) a liturgical drama and Gregorian chant, whose lyrics are a prophecy describing the Apocalypse!

Performed almost uninterruptedly since medieval times it was originally sung in Latin though this changed to the Catalan language around the 13th century and such is its importance in the religious traditions of the island that it was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010.

Here's what Unesco (Photo Joan Ferra) say about it;

The chant of the Sybil is performed at matins on the night of 24 December in churches throughout Majorca. The chant marks the annual Christmas Vigil, and is sung by a boy or girl accompanied by two or more altar boys or girls. During the chant they walk through the church towards the chancel, the singer carrying a sword in his or her hands, held upright in front of the face, while the altar boys or girls carry candles. At the end of the song a cross is drawn in the air with the sword. The versions of the chant performed on the island vary little from their Gregorian roots: each is sung a cappella with music between the verses provided by an organ. The costume worn by the singers usually consists of a white or coloured tunic, sometimes embroidered around the neck and hem, and often worn with a cape. The head is covered with a cap of the same colour as the tunic. The rite involves all the church parishes on Majorca with old and young generations working side-by-side as singers, costume-makers, celebrants and other helpers, thus ensuring its transmission.”

The song tells the terrible tale of the Antichrist's arrival on earth, fire, brimstone, and lots of sorrow, before our lord Jesus arrives to sort things out – rewarding the good and damning the bad. If you fancy seeing it then Palma Cathedral has a performance at 23:00 and nearly every church on the island features it from as early as 18:00 up to 23:30.

Mallorca Spotlight wishes all its readers a very happy Christmas and a great new year.