Some 160 Spanish broadsides (known as “aleluyas” in Spanish) have been recently added to the Cambridge Libraries catalogue. They were bequeathed to Cambridge University Library by Edward Meryon Wilson, former professor of Spanish at the University of Cambridge. The collection contains a complete run of one of the longest series of aleluyas ever printed in Spain: the Marés-Minuesa-Hernando series, consisting of 125 numbers. According to Jean-François Botrel , the printer Hernando would have acquired this collection from the printers Marés-Minuesa in 1886 and would have started reprinting it shortly afterwards.
These aleluyas can be consulted in the Rare Books Room (classmark F180.bb.8.1). They were printed by Librería Hernando and by Sucesores de Hernando, respectively (the founder and his descendants) between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (Librería Hernando was founded in 1828; Sucesores de Hernando took over in 1902).
The aleluya is an old form of cartoon or comic strip, the equivalent of today’s illustrated press, printed on a single sheet with 48 wood-blocks of images (sometimes less) in eight rows of six images each. In the 19th century, they appear accompanied by rhymed captions below, printed in cheap coloured paper.
The term aleluya originated in Castile to refer to small prints with drawings and verses about Jesus Christ that were distributed in churches on Easter Sunday. They originally had a religious purpose but, with time, they diversified and came to cover a wide variety of topics.
The aleluyas served two main purposes: to educate and to entertain. They were used to propagate literary works (Don Juan Tenorio, o, El convidado de piedra, Aventuras de Don Quijote de la Mancha) to describe the lives of important individuals (Vida del caudillo Carlista Don Ramón Cabrera, Vida y hechos de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca), and to describe famous events, past and present (Procesiones del Viernes Santo y del Corpus en Madrid, RomerÍa de San Isidro en Madrid, Rebelión filipina). Others featured fantastic characters (Vida del enano Don Crispín, Historia de Don Perlimplín), historical characters (El Cid Campeador, Los siete infantes de Lara), stories of a moralising nature (Vida del hombre y de la mujer borrachos, Vida del estudiante bueno y la del malo), circus scenes (Circo ecuestre y gimnástico) and sacred history (Pasajes de la historia sagrada, Vida de Santa Filomena y de Santa Teresa de Jesús).
Botrel, Jean François. La serie de aleluyas Marés, Minuesa, Hernando. Alicante : Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2007