Many of our selections come from a compilation of music from the Cistercian nunnery of Las Huelgas, in north-central Spain. The Codex Las Huelgas contains 186 pieces comprising both monophonic chants and more elaborate polyphonic pieces including some quite fun songs such as Fa Fa Mi celebrating the elements of music.
Las Huelgas is notable not only for its rich musical tradition but also because of its royal associations. It was founded in the early 1180’s at the request of Leonora (married to King Alfonso VIII of Castille), daughter of England’s Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Meaning ‘the place of refuge’, Las Huelgas became a centre of royal patronage and association. This gave the nuns a certain degree of ecclesiastical independence. Indeed, the abbesses of Las Huelgas would say mass, hear confession and make other decisions and rulings that a priest or bishop might do. And the nuns would sing and compose some of the most beautiful music of the thirteenth century, despite Cisterician ruling forbidding nuns to sing polyphony. There are 186 works in the collection, which is comprised of both monophonic and polyphonic works.