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Carrión de los Condes

Carrión de los Condes

Written by Alfonso Elizondo

In this small town in the province of Palencia there is a Cluniac monastery that was transferred just a few years ago to a Spanish hotel group by the operators of Spain’s national heritage properties. This monastery has a long history that began in the middle of the tenth century (948) with a monastic community of monks led by Abbot Teodomiro and that monastery was named San Juan Bautista.

In the 11th century, the monastery changed its name upon the arrival of the remains of the martyr San Zoilo from Cordoba. At that time the monastery was under the protection of the family of Los Condes de Carrión headed by Countess Teresa and Count Gómez Díaz who handed it over to the order of Cluny in 1076, marking the start of a remarkable period of historical and artistic splendor.

The San Zoilo Monastery was a leading religious and political center in subsequent centuries. Important councils were held there, the monarchs were armed knights, it was the main site of meetings of the Regional Assembly of Castile and León, it was the residence of the King and Queen of Spain and a place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages.

From the thirteenth century and for two centuries thereafter, its economic and spiritual decline started inadvertently. In the middle of the 15th century, San Zoilo became independent of Cluny and in the first decades of the 16th century it joined the Benedictine community of San Benito el Real de Valladolid. The present-day cloister was built with the idea of carving the history and the significance of the Benedictines in stone.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century it went through the processes of confiscation and expulsion although the building remained as the property of the bishopric of Palencia, and they gave it to the Jesuits who established a school there. When the Jesuits left in 1959 the former monastery was converted into the Diocesan Minor Seminary that lasted until 1986 when the Diocese sold the property and retained ownership of the section with the monuments. But since soon it was no longer being used by Diocese, it now houses a Spanish hotel group with very special features.

Today, the Plateresque-style cloister is the finest artistic structure and it is one of the most important cloisters of the Spanish Renaissance. It was started in 1537 by the architect Juan de Badajoz with the help of several architects and sculptors of the period. The ornamentation on the ground floor consists of some 250 portraits of characters from the genealogy of Christ and the Benedictine Order. It is in the style of the transition from Gothic to Renaissance, which is impressively beautiful. As you stroll through this beautiful cloister you will get a lesson in biblical history, with its portraits ranging from Adam and Eve and some Old Testament characters to the twelve apostles of Christ.

Among the many buildings in the north of Spain with a high religious as well as political content, I have selected the San Zoilo Monastery in Carrión de los Condes for my geopolitical essays, because it has retained, very beautifully, the historical essence of what the Kingdom of Spain has been over the last ten centuries and to some extent what it continues to be today.

Although there are now several European nations that still retain their old monarchical systems and the power of their religious leaders, the fact is that with all the complications of the present time we are possibly experiencing what will be the final stage of all the kingdoms of the West and life for human civilization will continue under new paradigms, farther and farther away from the old religious and cultural myths that seem to have ended with the twentieth century.

Addendum: It seems that this brief summary of the history of the last millennium in Spain that we found in the San Zoilo Monastery in Carrión de los Condes is somewhat similar to what has happened in most European nations, with small variations due to differences in the ethnicity and mythology of their monarchs, their religious hierarchy and the new world order being imposed on them by the new great powers such as China, Russia and India.