Alfonso the Wise (or more accurately, the Learned or the Scholar) was born in Toledo in 1221
and died in 1284. He ruled as king of Castilla y Leon from 1252-1284. He married Violante of Aragon,
daughter of Jaume I Conqueror of Mallorca who was possibly as young as 10 years of age at the
time of her marriage. Her failure to instantly produce children led the king to consider an annulment
but she eventually went on to bear him 12 children.
The four principal interests of Alfonso the Learned were poetry, history, astronomy and law. Although
all agree his involvement was considerable, they dispute the extent of his authorship of the Cantigas
de Santa Maria, 420 poems on miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary with musical notations. Written
in Galician-Portuguese, the illustrations portray the harmony existing between Jews, Christians and Moors
in the tolerant Spain of that time.
There is no doubt they were of supreme importance to him; all his life,
he saw himself as a troubadour to the Virgin, and was rarely parted from the collection. In Cantiga CCIX,
the king relates how, mortally ill in Vitoria he was returned to health from the touch of the sacred book
applied to his side. In addition, he makes special mention of the collection and to continued performances
from it in both versions of his testament.