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The Mystery Play of Elche

On 14 and 15 August each year the Mystery Play of Elche is performed at Elche’s Basilica of Saint Mary. This 17th century church was built on the site of the first Catholic church where the play is believed to have first been performed two centuries before. [caption id="attachment_316" align="aligncenter" width="360"]Elche’s Basilica of Saint Mary Elche’s Basilica of Saint Mary[/caption] The play has been performed every year since the mid fifteenth century by special authorisation from the Pope. In 2001 UNESCO included the Mystery Play of Elche on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to UNESCO the play is “a sacred musical drama of the death, the passage into heaven (known as the Assumption) and the crowning of the Virgin Mary.”
The play, which is entirely sung, is performed in two acts: the Vespra, on the evening of 14th August, and the second act, the Festa, on the following evening, 15th August. The first night is followed by a candle-lit funeral procession through the streets of Elche. Given the heat of the summer, performances start late and end in the early hours of the following morning. Dress rehearsals take place in the days leading up to the main event and tickets are made available. The following video (2 hrs 41 mins) from You Tube is a recording of ‘La Festa’ uploaded in August 2011.
The cast of the Mystery Play of Elche comprises males only with choir boys singing the parts of the Virgin and angels; all performers are amateurs from the city. The whole play is sung from text mostly written in the Valencian language. In medieval tradition the play is performed in two plains. i.e. using horizontal and vertical stages. High in the dome of the church there is a complex array of aerial devices which manages the movement of players and equipment up and down. On the first night, for example, a deep red and golden sphere known as the ‘mangrana,’ or pomegrante, descends from ‘heaven’, unfurling its ‘leaves’ to reveal inside an angel bearing a golden palm to present to Mary. There are some 300 volunteers from Elche City involved in staging the play each year. In the autumn of a year ending in an even number, there are special performances coinciding with Elche’s annual medieval festival. Dress rehearsals take place on the 29th and 30th October and the full play is performed on the 1st November. For further information visit the official Mystery Play of Elche website or keep an eye on the Region Of Valencia site. Elche is less than a 30-minute drive from the Drivalia Car Rental depot at Alicante Airport.
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