Things to Do in San Millán de la Cogolla

The Birthplace of Castilian

The monumental compound of Can Millán of the Cogolla, made out of the Monastery of Suso and the Monastery of Yuso, is one of the principal heritage landmarks of La Rioja, not only for its artistic relevance but for its cultural importance to the Castilian language.

Planning Your Trip to San Millán of the Cogolla

You cannot miss the two monasteries in San Millán of the Cogolla, and this visit can be done in a morning or an afternoon. To understand the Suso monastery, you can read the incredible Legend of the Infantes de Lara, and for the Yuso monastery, we recommend you make yourself familiar with the story of the miracle of its construction and the story of why it is not in Nájera, The Cadaver of the Saint. There are many magnificent nearby destinations: Nájera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and Ezcaray. Each of these can be done in a morning or afternoon as well. For the lovers of active tourism, there are many options in the neighboring town of Ezcaray, which covers the Parque de las Sierras de la Demanda y de Urbión. Check out our pages about eating and staying in San Millán of the Cogolla to find out about the best restaurants and lodgings.

Want to Get to Know this Place?

In the 6th century, a pastor named Millán decided to embrace the aesthetic life and retire to a cave in the hills of the Sierra de la Demanda in La Rioja. With his death in 574, a monastery was erected in his honor next to the cave. Thus, the Monasterio de Suso (or the Monasterio de Arriba, in old Castilian) was born, one of the two buildings which, along with the Monasterio de Yuso (or the Monasterio de Abajo), comprises the compound of the Monasterio de San Millán de la Cogolla.

Since its construction, the Monasterio de Suso was favored among the Navarran rulers, who protected it and made it one of the most important Catholic centers in the North of the peninsula. So much was its fame that, in the beginning of the 11th century, the building achieved the great honor of being an object of one of the last of the race of Almanzor, who would burn it in the year 1002.

Some years later, in 1053, the Navarran king García IV tried to move the relics to the monastery of Santa María de Real de Nájera in a wagon, leading to a miraculous event. The oxen could not move because of the weight of the load, which was interpreted as a sign that the relics should remain where they were. Therefore, a Romanesque building was erected where the wagon stood, which became the Monasterio de Yuso, which was completely remodeled during the 16th and 17th centuries. In turn, a small community began to form around this religious center, which is how the current village of San Millán de la Cogolla came to be. The monastery group was not in the Camino de Santiago, but it gained so much fame that it became an important stop along the route because the pilgrims would divert from the road to stand at its doors.

Until the year 1100, the monasteries coexisted: that of Suso attached to the Mozarabic rule and with a dual community (masculine and feminine), and that of Yuso, which adopted the rule of San Benito. After the 12th century, only the Benedictine community remained, which had charge of the lower monastery. The years that followed were some of spiritual, religious, artistic, and cultural splendor. In fact, it is written in one of its many manuscripts, like El Apocalipsis of Beato de Liébana (8th century), that this was one of the most important monasteries in the Spanish Middle Ages.

Old Photo of San Millán de la Cogolla
San Millán de la Cogolla from the 20th Century

 

The Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla is also considered to be the birthplace of the Castilian language. Here, the first testimony written in this language, the Glosas Emilianenses, was written here. This testimony is from the 11th century, which is when Castilian began to be used as the new form of communication among the common people. Some time later, during the 13th century, Gonzalo de Barceo, a cleric of the Monasterio de Suso, would contribute to the purification and codification of Castilian with his poetic works.

With the Desamortización de Mendizábal, the compound was abandoned, but a community of Augustine monks currently live in the new Monasterio de Yuso.

After its creation in 574, the Monasterio de Suso met with three styles; Visigoth, Mozarabic, and finally, Romanesque. The great horseshoe arches are conserved from the first two stages. The building, which you can currently see, is a temple attached to the rock and divided into two naves and five transepts. It retains architectural elements of the Visigothic stage from the 6th century and a Mozarab portico from the 10th century.

The monastery was also built as a cemetery. In addition to the sepulchers of the various hermits from the first community of San Millán, there are the Sepulcros de los Siete Infantes de Lara, Castilian nobles who were captured in the 10th century, taken to Córdoba, and beheaded. However, the main attraction of the monastery is undoubtedly the Cenotafio de San Millán, an impeccable, alabaster, recumbent tomb from the 12th century in which the saint appears dressed in the priestly robes of the Visigoths and with a portapaz with a cross with equally long arms resting on his chest. The tomb is located in the cave where the saint lived, the second of the vomplex, known as Oratorio de San Millán. In the same room, you’ll find an altar, considered by some as the oldest in Spain.

After its reconstruction in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, nothing but the old Romanesque building from the 11th century of the Monasterio de Yuso remained. It is currently an impressive monumental compound, commonly known as the Escorial of La Rioja, which combines Renaissance and Baroque. Its church, from the 16th century, is the first to be built in the whole monastery. It is divided into three naves, and its interior is distinguished by a main altarpiece, complete with eight paintings by Fray Juan Ricci (17th century), as well as a baroque gate enclosing the chorus. In the library, there are still more than 300 original documents that strengthen its title as the birthplace of Castilian. The area that displays the paintings by Fray Juan Ricci depicting Fernán González, Sancho el Mayor, García of Nájera, and Alfonso VII of Castilla, four of the monarchs who were the most connected to the church, is known as the Hall of the Kings. The wall paintings of the sacristy, which are from the 18th century, are an ensemble that is perfectly preserved, thanks to the limestone walls which efficiently absorb humidity. The cloister has two sections: The lower from the late Gothic period, and the upper from the Classical period. Finally, the entrance door to the monastery stands out with a relief showing San Millán in the Batalla de las Hacinas.

Monasterio de Suso

The Monasterio de Yuso also conserves the Arqueta de San Millán (11th century). It is made of marble, and it represents, in the Mozarabic style, episodes from the life of San Millán according to Gonzalo de Berceo in his Estoria del Señor Sant Millán.

Both monasteries, the upper and the lower, were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997, not only for historic and artistic reasons, but also for its religious, linguistic, and literary importance. Because of this recognition, the government of La Rioja has created the Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla and the International Center of Investigation of the Spanish Language Cilengua, which protects, investigates, and disseminates both the monastery and the history of the Castilian language. These are the main attractions in San Millán de la Cogolla.

Essentials

Interior del Monasterio de Suso
Entrada monasterio de Yuso

Practical Information

Coordinates

42° 19′ 45″ N, 2° 51′ 44″ W

Distances

41 km from Logroño

88 km from Burgos

358 km from Madrid

Parking

You’ll have no trouble parking right in the village. The Monasterio de Yuso has its own parking at its entrance, and the Monasterio de Suso offers street parking.

Altitude

728 m

Population

255 (as of 2013)

San Millán (November 12th)

Santa Gertrudis (November 17th)

Romería a la cueva del Santo (Third Saturday in June)

La Traslación (September 26)

Nearby Destinations


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