The Cant de la Sibil·la is an important part of the Christmas celebrations here in Mallorca. You might have read in the local media that UNESCO heritage laurels were bestowed upon this Mallorcan tradition a month ago. The Chant of the Sibyl was inscribed in 2010 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Wow. Someone must be very proud in Mallorca this very Christmas, and for some pretty good reasons.
Let me quote from the UNESCO heritage site:
The chant of the Sybil is performed at matins on the night of 24 December in churches throughout Mallorca. 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 Mallorca with old and young generations working side-by-side as singers, costume-makers, celebrants and other helpers, thus ensuring its transmission.
The following considerations were given by UNESCO for their acclaim:
The chant of the Sybil, transmitted by local communities on Mallorca from generation to generation, provides them with a strong feeling of identity and pride. Inscription of the chant of the Sybil on the Representative List could contribute to the visibility and awareness of the intangible cultural heritage worldwide. Numerous safeguarding measures are proposed, including documentation, research, awareness-raising and transmission, that can help to encourage the appreciation of the Sybil’s value and increase participation by the community. The element was nominated with the cooperation and commitment of the communities who have given their free, prior and informed consent. The chant of the Sybil on Mallorca is inscribed in the Insular and State Register of Intangible Property of Cultural Interest.
It may all sound a bit dry and theoretical. In reality, the chant and its recital can be quite compelling when experienced in their context as part of a church mass. Maybe your local Mallorcan parish church will have some Sibil·la singing as part of their Christmas service tonight. Please check locally.
If not, you could always head to the Catedral in Palma tonight. A midnight mass will be celebrated at La Seu at 23h00 including an incantation of the ancient and prophetic song. If you haven’t experienced one before you might agree with me that it was worth your while going to church if nothing but, for the reason of knowing what it was all about.
The photos were borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of vivenciesjosep.blogspot.com (top) and conselldemallorca.net (bottom). The image (bottom) shows the Consell de Mallorca poster designed on occasion of their application to UNESCO. The video was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of unescoSpanish, the Consell de Mallorca and SA NOSTRA Caixa de Balears.
Thank you, muchas gracias and moltes gràcies.
Happy Christmas. And