San Millán de la Cogolla Variant
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San Millán de la Cogolla is how this site made up of a village and the two monasteries is known, which has its roots in the community which grew up around the work of the hermit monk named Millán who lived 101 years (473-574) in caves in the sierra de la Demanda devoted to prayer. Suso from the Latin sursum means “at the top”, as the older of the monasteries is known, and Yuso, from the Latin deorsum, “at the bottom”. In 1997, they were both declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Of the current Monastery of Suso, constructed between the 6th and 11th centuries, important vestiges remain of the different historic moments it has lived through. The rock caverns in which the hermits lived, the primitive Visigoth coenobium, the Mozarab enlargement and finally, the Romanesque.
Access to the monastery is through the portaello, where the tombs of the infantes de Lara and their tutor Nuño are located, accompanying the three Navarran queens.
Through the Mozarabic arch with alabaster capitals which recall the time of the caliph of Cordoba in the 10th c., decorated with designs depicting plant motifs and geometrical shapes, we enter inside the Mozarabic monastery with three large horseshoe arches. At the back we can see the remains of the primitive Visigoth construction.
The burial cave contains the tomb of the founder from the second half of the 12th c. built of black alabaster and decorated with a recumbent statue, wearing priest's robes, alb, chasuble and stole with a beautifully worked cross on his chest bearing the decoration of numbers and plants. Nowadays, the Pilgrims' Way as it passes through la Rioja makes a diversion to the monastery of Yuso where the saint's remains are kept.
During the Middle Ages it was a centre of political and cultural power. From its important scriptorium came the first written testimony of the Romance Spanish and Basque languages, the glosas emilianenses. Nowadays the Ministry of Culture looks after the monastery
The origin of the construction of this monastery is reflected in a legend which tells how king García of Nájera, ordered the transfer of the remains of San Millán which were then in Suso to the Monastery of Santa María La Real de Nájera. The oxen which were pulling the cart stopped in the valley as if the Saint's remains did not want to abandon it, so the current monastery of Yuso was constructed on the spot. A 10th-11th century Romanesque monastery of which today no trace remains, over which the current monastery of Yuso was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries by the Benedictine abbots.
The Benedictine monks moved to the monastery in the 10th century. One of the most notable abbots was Domingo, born in the Riojan village of Cañas, better known as Santo Domingo de Silos.
The main door to the monastery was built in 1661 and depicts the relief of San Millán “Moorslayer” since, according to tradition, he fought against Islam together with Santiago (St James) in the battle of Simancas. The vestibule was made later, in 1689, and together these lead into the Kings' Chamber, called thus because of the four large canvases of kings who supported the monastery.
The low cloister was begun in 1549 and although its vaults are gothic in conception, it is Renaissance. Outside it is classicist in style and it houses twenty-four paintings by José Vexes, whose main theme is the life of San Millán, written by San Braulio, Archbishop of Zaragoza.
The vestry is one of the loveliest in Spain, the former chapter house started to be used as such around 1693. The 18th century frescos on the ceiling conserve all the rich original colour in spite of never having been restored. The walnut drawers and chests, over which hang twenty-four oils painted on copper in the Baroque style originating in Flanders, Madrid and Italy.
The monastery church was the first part of the whole to be completed, begun in 1504 and finished thirty-six years later. It is catalogued as being "decadent gothic". The grandiose altarpiece of the main altar has a canvas by Fray Juan Ricci, of the school of El Greco, depicting San Millán on horseback and the battle of Hacinas . The extraordinary wrought ironwork of Sebastián de Medina from 1676 complete the artistic whole of the main chapel.
The lower choirstalls were decorated by a Flemish sculptor around 1640, the retro choir in French Rococo style is decorated with busts depicting the disciples of San Millán, with the plateresque pulpit with reliefs of the writers of the gospels and symbols of the passion. The upper choir, somewhat later than the lower one, is supported on an arch with sixteen medallions, from the first half of the 17th c.
The shelves for the monastery songbooks hold twenty-five volumes copied between 1729 and 1731. The monastery archives and library are of great value to researchers and is considered to be among the best in Spain. Here the cartularies and three hundred original volumes are conserved.
In the exhibition room the replicas of the Romanesque ivories on the caskets are outstanding: reliquaries of San Millán from the 11th c. and of San Felices from the 12th c.
It was built by Benedictine monks, who stayed there until the disendowment and expulsion of the 19th c. Nowadays the Augustine friars are responsible for keeping alive the spirit of the monastery.
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