The Mystery of Elche: The cultural treasure of the town of Elche

14-15 August, Elche, Spain

The Mystery of Elche is a medieval liturgical drama, and a cultural treasure of the people of Elche and one of the most outstanding jewels of the valencian cultural heritage, as its pronouncement as National Monument in 1931, and its inclusion, in 2001, in the first Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, show.

La Festa, as this play of medieval origin is also known, is represented every year in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Elche in August, in order to celebrate the festivity of the Virgin of the Assumption. On August 14th the first part of the drama, known as the Vespra, is enacted. The second part, the Festa, is on the 15th. Besides, on the 11th, 12th and 13th of August dress rehearsals in which both parts are enacted take place.

The The origin of the Mystery of Elche has not yet been exactly determined due to a lack of accuracy in the documents. Two local traditions exist regarding its birth. One of them links the Festa with the conquest of the Muslim Elche by the Aragonese troops of James I of Aragon, in 1265, that’s to say, with the birth of the village to Christian civilization. Another legendary tradition tries to give the birth of the Mystery a miraculous origin, relating it to the apparition or “Coming” of the image of the Virgin of Elche on December 29th 1370. In this way the consueta (libretto or festival book) of the Festa would have been found, next to the figure of Mary, inside a wooden ark floating on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, in the nearby Tamarit Beach (in nowadays Santa Pola), by the soldier and coastguard Francesc Cantó.