Mystery play of Elche


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Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2001)

The mystery play of Elche is a sacred musical drama of the death, the passage into heaven (known as the Assumption) and the crowning of the Virgin Mary. Since the mid-fifteenth century it has been performed in the Basilica of Santa Maria and in the streets of the old city of Elche, situated in the region of Valencia. It is a living testimony of European religious theatre of the Middle Ages and of the cult of the Virgin.

This theatrical performance, which is entirely sung, comprises two acts, performed on 14 and 15 August. These depict the death and crowning of the Virgin in a series of scenes and related paintings: the death of Mary, the night procession that is followed by hundreds of participants carrying candles, the morning procession, the afternoon funeral procession in the streets of Elche, and the enactment of the burial, Assumption and coronation in the Basilica. The texts are in Valencian, the local form of Catalan, with certain sections in Latin.The stage has two levels: the horizontal “terrestrial” stage and the vertical “celestial” stage, characteristic of the medieval mystery play. Ancient aerial machinery is used to enhance the spectacle by means of special effects.

More than 300 volunteers take part in the performance each year as actors, singers, stage directors, stagehands, tailors and stewards, as well as in the preparations that last throughout the year.This tradition, which attracts the entire population of the town, is closely linked to the cultural and linguistic identity of the inhabitants of the region.The mystery play of Elche was designated a “National Monument” in 1931 and is protected by several laws aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage.