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History of Spanish literature

Spanish literature: El Mester de Clerencia

El Mester de Clerecía (Castilian literary genre)

“El Mester” or “Uficio de Clerecía” was the job of the monks in the middle ages. They dedicated themselves to prayer and to the transmission of culture, developing a new style of writing called the “Cuaderna Vía” (lit: fourfold way). The text was organized into four Alexandrian verses (fourteen lines each) divided into two equal hemistiches, giving the poem a monotonous rhythm that was easy to remember, particularly since some of the poems were designed to be educational and one of the main medieval literary fields at the time was didactic.

In the book of Alexandre the following appears:

Mester traygo fermoso, non es de ioglaría
Mester es sin pecado, ca es de Clerecía
Fablar curso rimado por la cuaderna via
A silabas contadas que es de gran maestría.

(Second stanza from the Book of Alexandre)

The texts written in this stanza gave a strict and organized order to the poem from beginning to end. The trend had changed from the popular composition, the lyric, to a new cultured model that followed strict rules.

Their importance grew because the monasteries were found on the route of the Camino de Santiago (The way of St. James), a link between the kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. The monasteries on this route were those of the order of San Benito that belonged to the region of Cluny. These monasteries preserved the ancient culture; in them the texts were translated and re-written by hand, with the copies being sent to the new monasteries.

The Camino de Santiago was actually a series of paths that passed through the Iberian Peninsula towards the city of Santiago. One of the paths started in the south of England and arrived at the Galician coasts and the city of Santiago. A second route followed the ancient “Ruta Romana de la Plata” (Roman Path of Silver) that went from the north of the Peninsula to the south, parallel to the current Portuguese border. The third, and most important, was called “Camino francés” (French path), which came from Europe and crossed the Pyrenees through the Roncesvalles region in the Aragon Pyrenees. Another path came through the Catalan Pyrenees.

The “Camino francés” is littered with monasteries and shelters where the pilgrims stayed during their long journey. These monasteries became a focus of wealth and centers of cultural union in Medieval Europe. Inside these monasteries Berceo completed his literary work: Vida de Santo Domingo, Vida de San Millán, Vida se Santa Oria, etc.