Music for the Eyes: Manuscripts from the Frank Cooper Facsimile Collection
Music for the Eyes: Facsimiles: Codex Las Huelgas

Codex Las Huelgas

(Códice de canto polifonico)

Las Huelgas

Discovered by two monks in 1904, the Códice de canto polifonico, or Codex Las Huelgas, is a liturgical codex copied sometime between 1300 and 1325. It was preserved in the Las Huelgas convent founded by Alfonso VIII in Burgos, Spain. This codex is an important piece of musical and cultural history, as there is a strong possibility it was created for the use of the Las Huelgas nuns, who may have performed many of the pieces contained within. The codex comprises both monophonic and polyphonic pieces, in forms popular from the 11th to the 14th century, such as conductus, sequences, tropes, and motets. Nearly 190 pieces are included, and over half of them are unique to this manuscript.

This facsimile reproduction of the original Codex was created as a joint project of the publishing company Testimonio and the National Heritage agency of Spain. Using state of the art processes, specially manufactured paper, and great attention to detail, the codex has been faithfully reproduced here within a leather binding, which is tooled in a 13-15th century Gothic style. One of a limited edition of 980 copies, this codex is a beautiful and distinctive addition to our collection.

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This conductus for two voices, “Dum sigillum summi patris,” has been attributed to the medieval French composer Perotin, the most famous of the group of Parisian composers referred to as the Notre Dame school. The large black “D” at the top of the page is referred to as an initial; it marks the beginning of the conductus. The middle of this leaf had been damaged at some point in the past, and was repaired by neat stitchwork.

Torn leaf

This example contains portions of two pieces. At the top of the page is the end of the monophonic conductus “Bonum est confedere.” The large red initial “Ve” in the middle of the page marks the beginning of the monophonic conductus “Ve mundo a scandalis.” Both conductus have been attributed to Philip the Chancellor, a French theologian and poet who served as the chancellor of Notre Dame de Paris from 1211 until his death in 1236. He may have been a composer, but these texts may also have been set to pre-existing tunes. This leaf had been torn nearly completely across, and was repaired by tidy stitchwork. A portion of the page remains lost.

Benedicamus trope

The initials that begin pieces in manuscripts such as the Las Huelgas Codex can vary in size, color, and detail. This example shows an elaborate initial “B,” which begins “Benedicamus Virgini matri,” a two-voice Benedicamus trope that is unique to this codex. At the top and bottom of the leaf, in tiny letters, is written “Johannes Roderici me fecit” (“Johannes Roderici made me”). Johannes Roderici (also referred to as Johannes Rodrigues) was one of the primary compilers and editors of the Las Huelgas codex, and apparently either composed this trope, or at least added it to the codex.

Man receiving blessing

One of the last pages of the Las Huelgas Codex, this image shows a seated man, who is receiving a blessing from a divine hand. The hand is giving him what looks to be a chained book, while the man proclaims “in manus tuas domine commendo spiritum” (“into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit”). This leaf is very worn and faded, with some holes, but the vibrant red color and the man’s upturned eye can still be seen.