I spent the summer of 1967 in Spain on an ILEA scholarship. I was in Alicante in August and had the opportunity to attend the Misteri d´Elx, a medieval mystery play that takes place every year on 14-15 August in the Basilica de Santa María. The mystery play focuses on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

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UNESCO has proclaimed it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, describing the work as follows:

“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.”

The work is a unique combination of religious fervor, music and theater. The use of machinery to link the events that take place “on earth” and “in heaven” is quite stunning. YouTube has a number of videos of performances of the play.

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