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December 25, 2018

Spain: San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries


The San Millán de Yuso monastery

Leaving San Lorenzo de El Escorial we headed to San Millán de la Cogolla. It was a journey from monastery to monasteries, from the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial to the Yuso and Suso Monasteries in San Millán. Though both destinations are know for their monasteries and are UNESCO World Heritage sites, they are very different.

Accessible from the capitol in Madrid, the 16th Century Royal monastery in San Lorenzo is impressively large. It is the monastery of the Spanish Kings and Queens built during the country’s golden age. The monastery shows off the monarchy’s wealth and power.

San Millán de Suso is on the hillside above San Millán de Yuso

In the middle of November snow has reached the mountains of Spain.

In San Millán, the Yuso and Suso monasteries are much smaller and far more remote than El Escorial. It reflects their different roles in organized religion. Yuso and Suso are anything but royal monasteries.

The Yuso and Suso are about a mile apart. Dating from the 11th Century San Millán de Yuso is the newer and larger of the two complexes. It sits lower down near the Río Cárdenas.

On the hill above the Yuso Monastery is the Suso Monastery. (Suso and Yuso mean the “upper” and the “lower” in archaic Castilian, respectively) It is the much smaller, more basic, and older of the two structures. Historians believe that Suso was built in mid-6th century at the site of a hermitage where Saint Emilian once lived. The building appears little changed from the time of its founding.

The tomb of St Millán in the San Millán de Suso monastery

The Yuso monastery

St Millán, who lived over a hundred years, created a monastic community in Suso. The community of monks continued for centuries and San Millán de la Cogolla became a stop on El Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella.

Past being a pilgrimage stop, Suso played an important role in the establishment of the modern Castilian-Spanish language. It is here where the language was written for the first time, according to UNESCO. In its “San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries” World Heritage listing, UNESCO mentions the monastery “as the birthplace of the modern written and spoken Spanish language”.

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Old books in the Yuso monastery

An illustrated manuscript inside the Yuso monastery

We visited San Millán de la Cogolla in November of 2017 and spent the night in the Hosteria associated with the Yuso monastery. It is an uncommon opportunity to experience this historic place at night.

At the time of our visit the hotel was virtually empty. It felt a bit like being in the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”. We were definitely running if Jack Nicholson appeared in the hallway.

Inside the Yuso monastery

The UNESCO plaque

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