San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries
San Millán Yuso And Suso Monasteries
Cultural Spain Europe And North America San Millán De La Cogolla, Province And Autonomous Community Of La Rioja

The Spanish language was born in these monasteries, San Millán Suso and Yuso, and they form an important part of the history of humanity. Because of the identification and inter-relationship of the two monasteries with elements of the Mozarabic, Visigothic, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque styles, the architecture and the natural landscape bring together highly significant periods in the history of Spain.

In the mid-6th century the holy San Millán settled at a site, now known as the Suso Monastery, on the flanks of the Cogolla or Distercios hills, where he was joined by other eremitic monks to found the Cogolla Community. During the lifetime of the saint a small monastery was built on the hillside in Visigothic style. This was enlarged in the 7th century by the construction of a porch or hall up against the caves, in which to receive pilgrims. The church was rebuilt in 929, during the reign of García Sanchez of Navarre and Castille, in Mozarabic style and King Sancho Abarca and his wife, Doña Urraca, attended its dedication in 984.

The Codex Aemilianensis 60 was written in the Suso scriptorium in the 9th and 10th centuries by one of the monks, who added marginal notes in Castilian and Basque, along with a prayer in Castilian, to clarify passages in the Latin text: this is the first known example of written Spanish.

After the church was damaged by fire in the early 11th century it was restored by King Sancho the Great, with some modifications such as the orientation of the church and the building of a chapel to house the recumbent statue of San Millán.

King Garcia Sanchez of Najera ordered the building of the Suso Monastery in 1503, and work began the following year, starting with the church (built within sight of the older monastery), the two cloisters, sacristy, chapter house, library, gallery, and rooms. The north wall of the church was rebuilt alter collapsing in 1595, and in the century that followed the ensemble was extended with the addition of the facade of the church, tower, porter's lodge, main entrance, and abbot's chamber, to the plans of the architect Juan de Raón. The monastery consists of a series of hermits' caves, a church, and an entrance porch or narthex. The caves, originally used by the monks, are cut into the southern slope of the mountain. They form the northern boundary of the church, consisting of twin aisles and five bays. Elements of Romanesque building of the Visigothic period are still clearly visible, including some striking capitals. The Mozarabic arches preserve the identity of the earlier structure. On the south facade there is a series of portals added during the reconstruction, one of which is named after Gonzalo de Berceo, as it was here that he composed his seminal poetry.

Archaeological excavations in advance of consolidation work on the west side of the church have revealed the foundations of a number of the other monastery buildings and the sites of the caves used by the original eremitic monks on the hillside above and around the church.

The main buildings of the Yuso Monastery, next to the modern village and below the Suso Monastery, cluster around a small cloister known as the Canons' Cloister (Patio de la Luna) and the main cloister, named after San Millán. The latter is two-storeyed, the lower part being open and roofed with star-ribbed vaulting and the upper part closed (now housing the museum). To the west lie the imposing Monarch's Chamber and the great main staircase. The well proportioned church, reached through a fine Baroque portal to the north of the cloister, is rectangular in plan, with a central nave and three aisles and six bays separated by cylindrical columns;there is a lofty choir at the east end. This is separated from the nave by two screens, the outer in wrought iron and of superlative workmanship, and the inner an ornate Baroque masterpiece by Francisco Bisou (1767). On the east are the former chapter house (now the sacristy), an elegant Baroque chamber, with the impressive library of the monastery on its upper floor. Finally, the austere but well-proportioned refectory, with the more ornate Abbot's Chamber above, lie on the south side. Access to the monastery is through a monumental gate to a spacious courtyard and through an ornately decorated archway.