SAN MILLÁN DE SUSO
To our contributors Juan Antonio and Diego Alonso, lovers of Spanish Pre Romanesque Art, who have furnished us with part of the information and photographs used in this file.
- Declared World Heritage on December 7th, 1997 together with the Monastery of Yuso.
- Of Visigothic origin, it was built in the 10th century, burnt by Almanzor and then rebuilt and later enlarged in the 11th century.
- It has gone through several restoration campaigns along the 20th century when also the multiple addings of the Baroque period were eliminated.
- Literature: Already in 636 St. Braulio de Zaragoza wrote a “Life of St. Millán”, in which, besides the saint’s biography, he informs about the relationships between the Visigothic kingdom with the Cantabrian people, very close to the area of Berceo, and about the fall of Amaya and the conquest of Cantabria by Leovigildo. St. Millán de la Cogolla is considered as the “cradle of Spanish language”. The first words in Romance language , that would give rise to Spanish, appear in a manuscript created in this monastery in 964, the “Glosas Emilianenses”, also known as “Emilianense Codex S.46”, an encyclopaedic dictionary in Latin. In the first half of the 13th century, based in the work of St. Braulio, of which there were four copies in the monastery of St. Millán, Gonzalo de Berceo, the first writer in Spanish language, representative of Mester de Clerecía, writes in this monastery using the cuaderna via as versification scheme, his “History of the Lord St. Millán” that would become one of the first books written in Spanish -with some Basque words-.
- Miniature: Since the beginnings of the 10th century and along several centuries, St. Millán de la Cogolla counted with one of the most active and high quality scriptoriums in Christian Spain. An important set of works have been preserved, as important as El Beato del Escorial (955), the already mentioned Emilianense Codex, El Beato de San Millán (990), the Emilianense Codex (992) or the Bible od St. Millán, from beginnings of the 13th century, among others.
- Architecture: As we will see, the church of Suso in its present state, once eliminated the additions of the last century that made Gómez Moreno to define it initially as a “set of banal constructions…” presents a large and complicated sample of elements belonging to different construction phases between the 6th and 11th centuries, besides the magnificent cenotaph of St. Millán found in his cave, a Romanesque work in alabaster, of the 12th century. But due to the complexity of the building that has survived and the lack of reliable historical information, it is becoming very difficult to detemine its structure in each of its phases, despite the great efforts achieved for its restoration and study that took place from the first third of the 20th century by experts of the importance of M. Gómez Moreno, F. Iñiguez, A. del Castillo, R. Puertas and, already in 2002, by the team from the Spanish Historical Patrimony (IPHE) that developed a huge project in which L. Caballero participated with his Archeological Analysis, in which we base ourselves at the moment of trying to decode this complicated brain teaser.
At present the church is a building attached to the southern face of a hummock from which only three of its sides protrude, with a portico that closes the southern one. There is outside a chevet to the east with two levels; the eastern one narrower and lower; both covered with gabled roofs with a large cantilever supported by excellent modillions, some of them originals, located in the most visible zones, and other reproduced in a restoration in the last century. Upon the highest one there is a turret with a window on each side and a four hipped roof.
The access is from a portico which arches were built around 1930 where the sepulchres of the seven infants from Lara, Nuño Salido and the queens Tota, Jimena and Elvira are preserved. Three of the sepulchres are Early Christian from the 4th century, reutilized after having removed the heathen images. On the northern side of the portico we find the entrance door of the church, horseshoe shaped with a prolongation of two thirds of its radius supported upon columns on each jamb, upon which there were before capitals of Caliphal type, of which the two external ones of the western side have been preserved.
It is inside that we feel a mix of astonishment and bewilderment. In fact, at the beginning we find ourselves before a strange two nave basilic and two apses with separation horseshoe arches of Mozarabic type, except the last two between the naves that are semicircular and with a completely diffrent kind of construction. On the northern side, leaned on the mountain, there are three openings of different shapes and construction techniques that communicate with the caves that gave origin to the monastery.
Once the first impression is overcome, the analysis gets more and more complicated when we start the study in more detail:
- Of the three arches on the northern wall, the central one is Romanesque upon columns and capitals, although there are remains of a horseshoe arch in the surface. It gives way to the cave where St. Millán dwelled, which has three levels of niches of the usual type in Visigothic hermitages. The saint’s cenotaph was built in it in the 12th century, although his remains were kept already in the monastery of Yuso. The eastern one serves to communicate the northern apse and the chapel of St. Oria, which has another altar of the same kind, horseshoe, of Mozarabic design. The western one, also semicircular, although much lower than the central one, gives way to a series of caves that contain medieval burials. There are also caves on the upper plan, which may be reached at present by a staircase located on the northern side of the end of the naves.
- The naves were built in two different phases. The eastern one, older, has a flat gabled cover that leans on a central wall supported by three very prolonged horseshoe arches upon columns with imposts and cimatiums. There is another level above them with six much smaller arches, what, according to Iñiguez, seems to indicate that there existed a second floor above this section of the northern nave. However, the western zone, strayed fifteen degrees with regard to the eastern axe, has just one level and its two naves they are separated by the semicircular arches, upon thinner columns and capitals and are covered by a barrel vault, originally in sinter.
- The two apses are communicated with each other and with St. Oria’s cave and with the two compartments on its eastern side, through six horseshoe arches in different formats. Both are covered by oblique domes, identical to those of St. Baudelio de Berlanga, although much smaller, therefore, the central support in this case is not required.
To finish this complicated teaser, we find remnants of disappeared faces throughout the whole ensemble, signs of an old fire, marks from vaults from the Baroque period, use of different material in the same walls and an endless list of added or eliminated elements along fifteen centuries.
Consequently it is extremely difficult to try to rebuild the history of the different construction phases of St. Millán de Suso despite being inevitable for us. We believe there are fundamental elements to bear in mind; on the one side, the main historical references of the monastery as well as the possible structural and stylistic relationships with other high medieval buildings and, of course, the already mentioned Archeological Analysis by L. Caballero Zoreda.
I- Main historical references
- 6th century: St. Millán retires to Suso and a monastery environment is created in the set of caves.
- 7th century: The monastery is important enough to let Fruminiano, brother of a character of the importance of St. Braulio de Zaragoza, become one of its monks and that St. Braulio would have decided to write the history of St. Millán. It is reasonable to think that during this period of splendor of the Visigothic architecture, the first building in Suso would have been built.
- 10th century: After two centuries without any news from the monastery, affected by the Arabic invasion -although we do not know whether some monastic life could have been kept- St. Millán de Suso, much protected by the kings of Navarra and by the counts of Castille, starts a phase of great activity, as shown by the existence of its important scriptorium, what indicates that it must have existed a building in accordance with such purpose, of which we have information between 929 and 984. This building must have been the origin of the present one.
- 11th century: It was burned by Almanzor in 1002 and rebuilt in Mozarabic style immediately after. In 1030, the year of the sanctification of Millán, Sancho el Fuerte from Navarra enlarged it and reconsacrated it. It is the western Proto Romanesque part, an usual style in other constructions of this monarch, like the antecrypt of St. Antolín de Palencia or the crypt of the Monastery of Leire.
II- Summary of the results of the Archeological Analysis.
According to the analysis of faces achieved by L. Caballero, there are remnants of four main construction phases in the church of St. Millán de Suso (press plan’s image to see the different stages).
- Pre Mozarabic building: Formed by two parallel naves of which part of the eastern wall of the apses and other small remains have been preserved. The eastern arch of the northern apse would belong to this period.
- First Mozarabic church: Built in the 10th century, prior to the consacration of 984, includes the whole of the present building except the two last sections of the naves and the access to the western and central caves. There is information that indicates that in this phase, the church of the monastery was formed only by St. Oria’s cave, as a chapel and the two present chevets as the body of the church; the rest is a nothern single covered nave at two levels, and the southern one, an open atrium.
- Second Mozarbic church: Rebuilt after the fire of Almzanzor. The columns of the first three arches are redone, a portico is built and the easter arch of the southern chevet is opened. Possibly at this moment the whole building is turned into a two nave basilic that has survived, adding eastern compartments at the chevet, replaced later by the present ones.
- Proto Romanesque enlargement. The last section of the two naves was added with a high choir in the last section.
- Pre Mozarabic building: On account of the characteristics of the preserved arch as well as for the importance that the monastery already had in the 7th century, and given that the area was not repopulated until the end of the 9th or beginnings of the 10th century, dates in which the Mozarabic art was already the dominant style, this first building must have been Visigothic from the 7th century.
- Shape of the first Mozarabic church: The possibility that it was initially built as a succession of three square, vaulted compartments -the two present apses plus St. Oria’s chapel- agrees with the structure of other Mozarabic churches of beginnings of the 10th century, such as St. Miguel de Celanova or Santiago de Peñalba. It would be more surprising an initial basilical design with two naves.
- Open atrium: If the original church was the indicated in the previous point, bearing in mind the double gallery of arches in the separation wall in the eastern side of the naves and that the portico is of later construcion, it is likely that the first Mozarabic monastery counted with a single nave at two levels, attached to the mountain and protecting the caves, with an open atrium in front, similar to the one in Porta Ferrada that has been preserved in the monastery of St. Feliú de Guixols.
Other interesting information
Access: Exit Logroño by A12, direction Burgos. At exit 21, take LR-427 to Nájera and 2 Km after, take LR-136 for 3.5Km. Turn left and take LR-113 for 2Km. Turn right to take LR-205, follow around 10 Km. Follow instructions to San Millán de la Cogolla.
GPS Coordinates: 42º19’45.97″N 2º52’21.75″W.
Telephones: Oficina de Turismo del Monasterio de Yuso: 941 373 259, D. Teodoro Lejárraga Nieto, ground keeper of Monastery of Suso, tel.: 608 612 492.
Visiting hours: Appointments at Oficina de Turismo.
From October through Easter, from 9.30 to 13.30 and from 15.30 to 18.00.
From Easter through October, from 9.30 to 13.30 and from 15.30 to 18.30.
Services. buses to the monastery every half an hour.
Imagen del Arte Mozárabe; José Fernández Arenas
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique – L’Art Mozarabe: Jacques Fontaine (ZODIAQUE)
Arte y Arquitectura en España 500/1250: Joaquín Yarza
Historia del Reino Visigodo Español: José Orlandis
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VI
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VII: Claudio Sánchez Albornoz
La Iglesia de S.M de Suso, Lectura de paramentos: L. Caballero Zoreda
Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla: Monasterio de Suso
Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla; Visita virtual a San Millán de Suso
Spain Info: Monasterios de Suso y Yuso (San Millán de la Cogolla)