This article argues that the rhythmic meaning of the notation in the Cantigas de Santa Maria can be only understood by confronting it with different theoretical paradigms. Julián Ribera in 1922 defended an Arabic paradigm, to the exclusion of any other, but his access to Arabic historical writings was severely limited. Higinio Anglés in 1943 and most modern musicologists have since adopted French mensural theory, but recognised that it does not fit many songs. The author has demonstrated elsewhere that songs that do not fit the French paradigm often fit the Arabic one. The applicability of both paradigms, including their superimposition, is systematically compared here. After comparison of general concepts (ordo and period), of even-time composition (modes V–VI or conjunctive rhythm), of long–short opposition in ternary time (modes I–II or Ramal) and more complex patterns, the author provisionally concludes that very few patterns point unequivocally to French models, while in most cases (first and second mode and potential forms of the third mode) both French and Arabic paradigms could apply. In many other cases, encompassing both binary and ternary metre, the Arabic rhythmic paradigm is clearly either more fitting than the Parisian one, or the only one to apply.