The monastery of Suso

The valley, monastery and village are linked by the same name San Millán de la Cogolla. The overwhelming beauty of the landscape should not be compared to any other, as it is before us to delight our eyes and soothe our souls. The curious who approaches either a pilgrim or a tourist who rushes to  pray or capture images, should be taken by the hand and ask him to stop at every corner of the road and in front of every stone,and look at every scroll and the countless books in detail. Here, in San Millán de la Cogolla, you can not only discover the heart of The Spanish history, but also part of the history of Navarra and even some of the most important chapters of Spanish history.

San Milán

It all began with the pastor whom   God  chose to  live as  a  hermit, whom the bishop raised as a priest and whom his disciples chose  abbot. He lived a long life: more than a hundred years. He was born in Berceo in 473 and died in 574.  He handed out miracles just like others handed out charity,without looking at the beneficiaries. It is not surprising that 17th-century Spain, which needed milestones and myths for its self-discovery, found in the tomb of San Millán a magnet for worship: San Braulio de Zaragoza wrote his life and the poet San Eugenio,who had a mystical soul, composed the prayers of his liturgy and  dedicated to him  poignant  coplas of intense fervor written inLatin. As early as  634 many monks and pilgrims  crowded the spaces of the small monastery of Suso.

Suso Monastery

In the 10th century, the kingdoms of  Castile and    Navarre (sometimes in harmony and others in dispute over territories)managed tobuild  in these territories a solid Christian culture. They were interested that  the former monastery of San Millán  was under their rule, because it belonged to  these teritories,  and in it they reproduced important codices and provided  scribes to the Court. As a result, Castile and Navarre  competed in granting privileges to the monks. In 1030, Sancho el Viejo (who reinvented the Camino de Santiago) commissioned the reliquary de San Millán to be made available to the public. His son, García de Nájera, began to build the new convent, Yuso, because there was no longer room for so many people in the monastery of Suso. The work was completed at the time of Sancho IV, That of Peñalén, in 1067, at the same time as the ivory reliquary was completed.

In this monastery many personalities were canonized: a certain  Sunday of Cañas, also called Domingo de Silos, a  certain  Oria the Emparedada, an abbot named Pedro, who was a great artist in duplicating and decorating Codexes, another Abad called Bias, a very enterprising man, and a monk named Munio, who is probably the one who owes the first almost literary text in Spanish. Later, more were added: the monk Ferdinand, confidant of Alfonso VI, another Fernando, known for his excellent knowledge of Latin and his prolific imagination, which has made something believable in history, the poet Gonzalo de Berceo, the calligrapher of  Philip II, Fray Martín de Palencia, Cardinal José Sáenz de Aguirre, the archivist and connoisseur of the Middle Ages, Fray Plácido Romero, the polygraphed father Toribio Minguella and the venerable father Joaquín Peña.

Such an extensive history, so much knowledge, so much sanctuary, piled up in such a small space, have made San Millán de la Cogolla a Unesco World Heritage site.

The monastery of Yuso

Monastery of Yuso

Let us leave a pore aside the  memories and dediquémonos to tangible reality: Yuso is a lyrical yearning, a civil monument. The monastic life in Yuso was harder than the stones with which it was built. These originally Romanesque stones were removed in 1067 and replaced by the ones still existing of the Renaissance. The building is still a monastery, because there is still a community that lives here. If together the years when monks of different religions lived here, like those who followed the faith of the founder of St. Millán, and those who were faithful to the Benedictine rule and those Augustinian monks who still live within these venerable walls,  we would have fourteen and a half centuries of religious life. It is believed that no other monastery in Spain has such a long tradition.

The facade, which gives access to the building, was completed in 1661 and is the work of the architect Pedro de Basave; it is adorned with sculptures by Diego de Lizarra: a great relief shows us San Millán, as our grandfather imagined, on horseback and fighting against his sword against the Moors. The work is an oversimplification of the main oil painting of the main textbook, painted by John Ricci in 1654, and gives the impression of asking for the patronage of the saint overSpain,  because he appeared in the battles of the Reconquest as the Apostle Jacob.

Salón de los Reyes

Salón de los Reyes
Glosas Emilianenses (Facsimile)
Glosas Emilianenses (Facsimile)
Glosas Emilianenses (Facsimile)

The first room to visit is called Salón de los Reyes, the Salon de los Reyes, for its four paintings, also by Ricci; represent Fernán González, Sancho el Viejo, García de Nájera and Alfonso VII of Castile. We continue  by the processional cloister, the processional cloister, which is preserved in Renaissance style, but also with  numerous Gothic elements in the vaults and some plateresque features in thedecoration. However, the latter are not complete, because apparently  according to the abunts of the sixteenth century, before the end of the project the money left. When the birds get dark and the birds finish their songs, this cloister is one of the few places where you can feel the silence and spheres with which Fray Luis de León dreamed. A date above the magnificent entrance door of the church tells the story of the completion of the cloister: 1554.

Cloister and Church

Cloister 1554

From the cloister you  lead to the church of the monastery, which is the pride of the Benedictine community, because it was built between 1504 and 1540. In 1595, the northwest wall was torn down and it was necessary to lower the vaults and hold them with strong masonry; today it is held together by pillars and side walls of support. The dimensions remain overwhelming. The main ensemble was designed by Abbot Ambrosio Gómez, who also chose the artist: the best painter of the Baroque court, who was none other than Fray Juan Ricci. This made the eight oil paintings in 1653. A closer look is also  deserved  by Sebastian de Medina’s cast-iron gate that the artist finished in 1679. But there are many other admirable elements: the organ, the room behind the choir with its beautiful sculptures, the pulpit of the parish at the back, the light that floods the upper choir, the medallions in the vault, etc.

The Sacristy

The sacristy is because the ceiling frescoes are a true glow of color. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, represented in a sculpture from 1700 and accompanied by four Marian saints, one in each corner of the barrel vault. It is also worth seeing more closely the copper flemish engravings on the sacristy cabinet and the four oil paintings of Neapolitan origin on the right wall as we observe the scene; ofthe second half of the 17th century.

The Upper Cloister

Iclimb  the steps next to the sacristy door we reach the upper cloister, which is flooded with light and  is  very spacious, a work of the Italian architect Andrés de Rody, which arises from his contract with Abbot Pedro de Medina in 1572. Since its construction no changes have been made, except that it has been protected from the climate with glass windows, which also benefits the lives of monks who spend most of their time here. Twenty-four oil paintings with round arches told the life ofSaint  Millán. When Jovellanos visited the monastery in 1795, he supposedly read the inscription «Spinosa faciebat 1662» in one of the paintings, which would give information about the author and the date. But that may not be entirely true, Spinosa did not have enough time in his short life to paint all the pictures, perhaps the hives;  andit’s not clear who painted the other twelve.

The Exhibition Hall

In one of the corners of the cloister is the Exhibition Hall, the exhibition space with much to see: more Ricci’s paintings, more Flemish´s engravings, several wooden sculptures housed in display cases, imitation ivory figures from 1607 for the reliquary of St.  Millán, by the way, one of the treasures of Spanish art. Nearby, in a display case, is kept the coffin, which once housed the ivory figures that belonged to the relics. The coffin, which is still lined with Arabic silk, dates from the first half of the 11th century. In 1809, during the Revolutionary War, the gold and precious stones with which it was decorated were removed.

When visiting the opposite corner of the showroom in this cloister, you can end your visit with the staircase called Noble Staircase, which, with its beautiful balustrade, is a good example of the architecture of the time. Under one of the lions with the coats of arms of the monastery and the crown of Castile, the date of this work is revealed at the foot of the stairs: 1697.

Reliquary of St.  Millá

Romanesque ivory s. XI