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 monastery ensemble does not only consist of the religious buildings themselves. It contents also 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 purpose as vine cellars, a hole to storage ice, and others.
The most impressive component of the monastery area is the historic wall which surrounds the ensemble and has a total length of more than a kilometre 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. For this reason parts of the wall are endangered by the lack of maintenance, vandalism and misuse.
The aim of the project is to raise awareness about the wall surrounding the monastery among the administration, the visitors and the local inhabitants and thus to contribute in the mid-term to its appreciation, protection and conservation.
As a first step, the most visible parts of the wall will be cleaned of vegetation, mostly ivy, which dramatically endangers the stability of the wall. This will enable to carry out a detailed documentation of the wall including its state of conservation. The documentation will be introduced by a conservation specialist of the Polytechnic University of València and include plans, photographic documentation and verbal documentation and shall provide the base for later conservation measures.
The interventions and the documentation will start at the most visible and best accessible part of the walls – near the parking area, where the tourists are arriving – and shall be continued step by step in the following years at other parts of the wall.
The project is jointly organised by European Heritage Volunteers and Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla, in cooperation with Universitat Politècnica de València, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura.