Located in the heart of one of Spain’s most iconic regions, renowned for its wine, the Monasteries of Yuso along with its oldest sibling the Suso monastery represent an essential component to the identity of La Rioja and this splendid cultural landscape. The monasteries are UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. They are situated in the village of San Millán de la Cogolla in the valley of the Cardenas River, on the foothills of the La Demanda mountain range and just beneath the snowy summits of San Lorenzo Mountain, the highest point in La Rioja.
The Suso monastery was founded in the caves inhabited by the disciples of Saint Millán in the 6th century, and it contains a remarkable example of different architectural styles from the early Middle Ages in Spain along with precious treasures of this period.
The Yuso monastery was built as an expansion to the Suso during the 9th century. It was later rebuilt successively during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, providing an overlapping example of different architectural styles: the Renaissance and the Baroque. The monastery holds abundance in artistic treasures in its museum such as paintings by Juan de Rizzi – a renowned painter for cloisters in Spain – and copper art from the 17th century. In this place is where the relics of Saint Millán are kept, in an elaborate reliquary made of gold and ivory. There are several other examples of exquisite religious art and design contained in the monastery such as the choir sculptures and fence as well as the splendid pulpit sculpted in walnut wood.
However the most interesting elements of this ensemble are the library and the archive, which are ranked amongst the best in Spain. The medieval archive is composed of Galician and Bulario cartularies as well as over three hundred original documents.
The library remains furnished as it was during the late 18th century. It is an outstanding assemblage of documents and books not because of the volume of its content of over ten thousand copies, but for the rarity of some of them. One of these rarities is the Evangeliary of Jeronimo Nadal, printed in Antwerp in 1595. This rare book is exceptional not only for the uniqueness of the printed edition but also because every sheet is polychrome decorated.
It is in this historically rich setting that this year’s European Heritage Volunteers Project will take place, amongst the treasures of a monasterial world that echoes from the Middle Ages into our days through the vestiges found in this exceptional cultural site.
The training course
The monastery ensemble does not only consist of the religious buildings themselves. It also comprises a variety of buildings and smaller units which give testimony of the fact that monasteries were not only places for religious life, but also economical centres which had relevance for the whole region. The ensemble includes till today numerous stables, barns and other agricultural buildings as well as components with special purposes such as vine cellars, a hole to storage ice, and others.
Beside the monastery itself the most impressive component of the monastery area is the historic wall which surrounds the ensemble and has a total length of several kilometres and a height from two to more than five metres. However, the wall is neglected and it is not included in visits or guided tours. Furthermore, it is understood by parts of the inhabitants of the village as a sign of division between the monastery and the village – what indeed had been its purpose in the past. A relevant problem is given by the fact that the wall has countless owners – every owner of a narrow stripe of field or garden owns the related small section of the wall. For all these reasons considerable parts of the wall are endangered by lack of maintenance, vandalism and misuse.
The aim of the training course is to raise awareness about the wall among the administration, the visitors and the local inhabitants and thus to contribute in the mid-term to its appreciation, protection and conservation.
During the 2021 training course, those parts of the wall which are closed to the natural environment – a section of almost two kilometres length – will be documented in detail. The documentation will follow the standards of heritage documentation and will include photographic documentation, drawings and a verbal part.
The participants will work in groups, each of which will have two tasks; one task will be related to the original substance of the wall – as the foundation, the elevation, the top of the wall etc. – and the other one related to the state of conservation and to problems as static-constructive problems, later interventions, degradation and similar aspects.
At the end a final documentation will be established which will serve as the base for later conservation interventions, but also as a tool to create awareness among the population how to avoid improper interventions resp. how to apply best conservation practices.
The documentation process will be led by a conservation specialist of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
The training course will be completed by a rich educational programme about the documentation of historic structures, rural heritage in Spain, the Yuso and Suso Monasteries, the village San Millán de la Cogolla and other topics. A whole-day excursion throughout the region La Rioja will enable to get familiar with and to discuss about different intervention practices at heritage sites.
For 2022, a follow-up training course is planned which will focus on the remaining parts of the wall more linked to the urban structure of the village San Millán de la Cogolla.
The training course will take place from July, 19th, till July, 31st, 2021, and is jointly organised by European Heritage Volunteers, Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla, the UNESCO Chair “Earthen architecture, building cultures and sustainable development” at the Polytechnic University of Valencia / Spain, and PEGASO – Research Centre for Architecture, Heritage and Management for Sustainable Development.