Voices from the 18th Century: Christmas Matins at Córdoba Cathedral, 1736



It was one of the most anticipated events on the 18th-century Spanish church calendar—Christmas Matins service—where the secular and sacred met in agreement. The usual liturgy was replaced by a sequence of newly-composed villancicos (vocal works in the vernacular).

The churchgoer heard nine villancicos in all, organized into three sets of “Nocturnes,” with readings before each set. Practices varied from place to place but this was the general layout of the service.

To accompany or remember the event, librettos (pliegos) of the villancicos were published, thousands of which survive and give details about the occasion, especially where no music exists.

The following is a translation of a title page to one such libretto from a Matins (pictured) that took place in Córdoba, Spain. As was typical of title pages, we’re given the date, place, composer, and printer.

“Villancico texts to be sung in the Holy Cathedral of Córdoba, at the Matins [Service] of the Birth of Our Lord, this year, 1736.

Set to music by Augustin de Contreras, chapelmaster of said church, and capellán in perpetuity of Saint Ines.

Printed in Cordoba at the Assumption College printing house by Antonio Serrano and Juan Esteban de Pareja.”

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