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The Mystery Play of Elche

Spain

The mystery play of Elche is a sacred musical drama of the death, assumption and crowning of the Virgin. It has been performed since the 15th century in the Basilica of Saint Mary of Elche with special permission from the Pope. The play is living testimony to European religious theatre from the Middle Ages; as well as the medieval culture of devotion to the Virgin which was influenced by Byzantine rites. The mystery play, which is entirely sung, is presented in two acts played on 14 and 15 August. The text, conserved in collections dating from 1625, is written in the Valencian language, with several parts in Latin.  Medieval songs alternate with songs from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The stage is organized horizontally for the earth and vertically for heaven, a characteristic of medieval mysteries. The play, reflecting the cultural and linguistic identity of the people of Valencia, involves about 300 volunteers each year and attracts the entire population.

Threats: It is difficult to find the materials and know-how to maintain the scenery and stage devices and preserve the Valencian language which has been largely replaced by Castillan.

Action plan: The mystery was proclaimed a National Monument by the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, protecting it by law. Now training institutions are envisaged for actors and singers. Since 1990, the City Council and the Ministry of Culture of Valencia have organized an international festival of  medieval theatre and music, which includes a research seminar. A museum of mystery plays is envisaged, along with an internet site. Plans are to restore the basilica and stage devices.