Abel Delgado

Major and Classification

History and Minor in Human Resource Management

Faculty Mentor

Sherry Velasco, Ph.D.


Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Marshall School of Business

McNair Project

“The Jewess and Mooress in the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X”

Project Abstract

Amidst the turmoil in Spain and struggle to be crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, Alfonso X, the learned of Castile, embarked on a literary and artistic project “for the honor and praise of the Holy Virgin Mary.” He compiled, wrote, and edited the Cantigas de Santa Maria–a thirteenth-century collection of more than four hundred songs that recount miracles performed by the Virgin Mary. Albert Bagby states “the Cantigas are the most realistic, accurate, and complete picture of the life and customs of the thirteenth century”. In the Middle Ages, Spain was unique. Its civilization was the product of three distinct religions–Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The Cantigas illustrate the tumultuous relationships between these three groups. They also show the way that Alfonso X, a Christian himself, felt towards the “others.” Medieval scholars have studied the anti-Semitism and Islamophophia that exist within the Cantigas, but few have looked at the ways in which both female Muslim and Jews are portrayed. This study examines the way that Muslim and Jewish women are portrayed in comparison to their male counterparts. By analyzing both the literary works and the miniatures that accompany each miracle, I claim that the portrayal of the Jewess and Mooress is positive because Alfonso X had a double standard and did not see these women as a threat to society. In fact, Jewish and Muslim women could help others convert to Christianity via reproduction of future generations of Christians. Finally, the positive portrayal of women might serve other purposes. Since the Cantigas would have had a large audience, possibly even a Jewish and Muslim one, these songs might have been used to convince others that female conversion to Christianity was necessary because “foolish” souls need to be saved. Also, they might have served as an offense to the Jew and Muslim patriarch, since the conversion of his wife and children displays an ideological conquest over the woman after the man is defeated.