The Cant de la Sibil-la in Mallorca

The Sibil-la is a sign of identity of which the Mallorcans are proud. After some years in which its presence was reduced in the liturgical celebrations of Christmas, in the last 30 years its representation has been recovered, becoming, in many occasions, the main reason for attending the Matins Mass or Midnight Mass.

Thus, in the homes of Mallorca the tradition dictated a Christmas Eve dinner (the eve of Christmas Day) in which the family would gather to taste together the frito mallorquín de porcella. After dinner, the families would go to their parish church to attend the Maitines Mass, followed by a chocolatada with ensaimada in the early hours of the morning.

Der Gesang der Sibil·la auf Mallorca

The Cant de la Sibil-la

Certain representations appear as part of the liturgical celebration in the Middle Ages. Their function was to help the common people to understand and memorize passages from the Bible, New Testament or ecclesiastical dogmas.  The representation of the Passion of Christ, celebrated at Easter, or the adoration of the Reyes Magos, at Christmas, are some examples.

Origin of chant

In ancient Greece and Rome, sibyls were women who possessed the gift of clairvoyance. After the arrival of Christianity in the empire, the sibyls were assimilated as prophetesses, attributing to them the announcement of the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Thus, the representation of the Sibyl in which a prophetess tells of the coming of the Last Judgment, the arrival of Jesus Christ and the catastrophes that would accompany him, became a piece that was performed during the Christmas Eve mass throughout the Western Mediterranean.

Thus, on the cold and often rainy Christmas nights of the Middle Ages, a boy or a young countertenor assumed the role of a sibyl and, from the pulpit, and illuminated by just a few candles, prophesied the coming of the final judgment and the punishment of all the impure.

The Sibyl narrated the terrible events in a Gregorian chant in Latin, Occitan, Spanish, Catalan, Galician or Basque, holding a sword that, at the end of the representation, would mark an imaginary cross.  In Mallorca, and only in some churches, at the end of the representation, the Sibyl cuts with the sword a small thread that holds a sponge cake.

Its prohibition and (almost) disappearance

During the Council of Trent (1565) the representations and dances that took place in the temples were forbidden and, although the Council of Toledo allowed its celebration again, it did so as long as it did not take place during the liturgy.

Thus the Sibyl stopped going up to the pulpit on Christmas Eve nights and its celebration fell into oblivion. However, in Mallorca (Spain) and Alghero (Sardinia, Italy, at that time part of the Kingdom of Aragon), it continued to be performed until our days, with the opposition of the ecclesiastical hierarchies but the consent of the local church.

It was not until the Second Vatican Council (1965) that women were able to assume the role of sibyl in the performance. 

Lyrics of Cant de la Sibil-la

The first known texts were written in Latin in the 10th century. It was the oral tradition that allowed it to reach the 19th century, when it was documented.

The fact that it was the oral tradition that made it survive also meant that numerous versions were born from the original.

Catalán

Lo jorn del Judici
parrà el qui haurà fet servici.

Jesucrist, Rei universal,
home i ver Déu eternal,
del cel vindrà per a jutjar
i a cada u lo just darà.

Gran foc del cel davallarà;
mars, fonts i rius, tot cremarà.
Daran los peixos horribles crits
perdent los naturals delits.

Abans del Judici l’Anticrist vindrà
i a tot lo món turment darà,
i se farà com Déu servir,
i qui no el crega farà morir.

Lo Sol perdrà sa claredat
mostrant-se fosc i entelat,
la Lluna no darà claror
i tot lo món serà tristor.

Lo seu regnat serà molt breu;
en aquell temps sots poder seu
moriran màrtirs tots a un lloc
aquells dos sants, Elies i Enoc.

Als mals dirà molt agrament:
—Anau, maleits, en el turment!
anau-vos-ne en el foc etern
amb vòstron príncep de l’infern!

Als bons dirà:—Fills meus, veniu!
benaventurats posseïu
el regne que us he aparellat
des que lo món va esser creat!

Oh humil Verge! Vós qui heu parit
Jesús Infant aquesta nit,
a vòstron Fill vullau pregar
que de l’infern vulla’ns lliurar!

Lo jorn del Judici
parrà qui haurà fet servici.

English

The day of judgment will come to him who has served.

Jesus Christ, Universal King,
eternal man and true God,
will come from heaven to judge
and will give to each his just reward.

Great fire shall come down from heaven,
seas, fountains and rivers, all shall burn,
the fishes shall give great shouts,
losing their natural delights.

Before the judgment the Antichrist shall come,
and shall give torment to all the world,
and shall make himself as God to be served,
and whoever does not believe him will have him killed.

The sun shall lose its brightness
and it shall be dark and dim,
the moon shall not give light
and the whole world will be sadness.

His reign will be very brief,
in that time under his power
martyrs will die, all in one place,
those two saints, Elijah and Enoch.

To the wicked he will say very bitterly:
– Go, you cursed, to torment!
Go to the eternal fire
With your prince of hell!

To the good he will say: – My children, come!
Blessed are you, possess
the kingdom which I have given you
since the world was created!

O humble Virgin! You who have given birth
the child Jesus tonight,
Pray to your son
That he will deliver us from hell!

The day of judgment will come to him who has served.

Where to listen to the Cant de la Sibil-la

The Cant de la Sibil-la is performed in almost all the churches of Mallorca. We will highlight, due to its proximity or special relevance, the ones celebrated in

The Cant de la Sibil-la, Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO

The characteristics that make the Sibila a fusion between cultured and popular music, the deep-rootedness of this celebration in the population, despite the numerous customs that come from outside and replace local traditions, and its survival practically intact over eight centuries of existence, made UNESCO include the Cant de la Sibil-la as one of the 192 elements designated as Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

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