This religious representation has been designated Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
It is a lyric drama of medieval origins, that has been staged since the 13th century, one of the customary representations of the Assumption in Mediterranean Europe. The play is based on several texts from the Apocryphal Gospels, quite popular during the Middle Ages. The text is written in the Valencian language, apart from a psalm and a few verses in Latin, and it has a total of 259 verses. The musical part offers the most noteworthy characteristics. The melodies come from different periods being added to by different composers.
This extraordinary religious drama, the only living example of primitive lyric theatre, is also the only one in the world to be staged inside a church – the Santa María Basilica – thanks to a special dispensation granted by Pope Urban VIII. It is divided into two acts. The first is the dormition of the Virgin Mary, in the presence of the apostles and angels. The second is Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven. The Mystery of Elche is a beautiful show, with exquisite Medieval music. The play consists of the angel descending on the ‘Mangrama’, with a beautifully decorated white palm in his hands, which he presents to the Virgin Mary. She then presents it to the Apostle John. The palm is kissed by Mary before being handed over to the apostle, thus anointing it with the finest of blessings. This grace transcends to the town when the branches of the palm are handed out following the play. Then, the ‘Misteri’ is taken to the streets in a procession of the ‘burial’ of Mary with songs from the ‘Festa’ and the participation of actors.
The first and second act are represented 14 and 15 August respectively every year, and entrance is free. There are dress rehearsals 11, 12 and 13 August which can be attended purchasing a ticket. In even-numbered years, there are special performances in October and November as well. In this case the two acts are performed on 1 November (first act in the morning and second in the afternoon) and the dress rehearsals are 29 and 30 October. As in the summer, the 1 November performance is free, while tickets must be purchased for the dress rehearsals.