|Fall landscapes in rural Rioja|
|Vaulted cloisters in Yuso|
Mike told me that nearly all of the adult students he teaches at the language school insisted he visit the monasteries, so we took their advice and ventured out into the cold with a few other language assistant friends in Logroño.
Suso MonasterySan Millán’s story begins with, well, San Millán himself: St. Emilian of Cogolla, a monk who lived as hermit out here in the hills of Rioja in the 500s. After his death, his disciples started a small monastic community where the Suso Monastery is today, and this site slowly evolved over the centuries from its original Visigothic structure into the Mozarabic and Romanesque building we see today. I loved the eerie link to the past that the horseshoe-shaped arches gave as they cast shadows on the thousand-year-old floor and framed the coffins of a dozen or so monks.
|Approaching the church|
The original codex or book was put together in the 9th or 10th centuries, but a hundred years later a scribe evidently felt the need to clarify certain words for future readers. Fortunately for us, he did so in Very Very Old Spanish, which gives us a fascinating peek into the Romance language dialects that would have been spoken in the area a millennium ago. When these glosses were discovered, they were considered to be the oldest written witness to the Spanish language.
|Inside the church|
It really is incredible that this tiny monastery in rural Rioja played such a formative role in the history of the Spanish language!
|Alabaster column capitals|
|Outside the church|
The original hillside monastery came to be known as Monasterio de Suso, as suso is an archaic Spanish for “upper” or “above.” The new one received the name Monasterio de Yuso; yuso is a little-used word for “lower” or “below” (and, #NerdAlert, is cognate with the English word “dorsal”).
|The remains of St. Emilian|
The Yuso Monastery was later rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries making it a superb example of late Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The warm stone cloisters welcomed us in from the bitter cold weather outside, and the over-the-top golden Baroque decorations in the church dazzled us. The Spanish-language tour we went on took us throughout much of the monastery (which is still home to some Augustinian monks today!), the guide showed us some of their Most Ancient Books, and we got to gaze at the Romanesque carved ivory chest that holds the remains of St. Emilian.
It was kind of strange going on this tour because we were the youngest attendees by far; the group was composed almost entirely of retired Spaniards! But it was a pleasant change of pace to check out a destination that “only the locals” know about.
|Copy of the original text|
I left San Millán a little disappointed because the book that the Glosas Emilianenses were discovered in no longer belongs to the monastery; instead it’s in the library of Madrid’s Royal History Academy. There’s a huge plaque on the wall with the text of the sidenotes as well as a facsimile of the original page, but it’s just not the same thing as the real deal.
Also, recent studies have even cast doubt on Rioja’s status as the birthplace of Castilian Spanish. Many linguists believe that the language in the glosses is more accurately medieval Navarro-Aragonese, the predecessor to today’s endangered Aragonese language. It’s hard to say if a thousand years ago Navarro-Aragonese and old Castilian would have been mutually intelligible dialects of the same Romance language, though.
And to make matters worse, older manuscripts written in Old Castilian were found five years ago to the west in Burgos that date to the 800s, a whole century before the vernacular sidenotes were composed. None of these developments have been able, however, to dethrone San Millán de la Cogolla of its World Heritage status as the cradle of the Spanish language.
How to get there
|Beautiful Baroque sacristy|
Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage for a language before? Do the monasteries of Suso and Yuso sound interesting or boring to you? Tell me what you think below in the discussion thread!
For more pictures, check out my album on Flickr.