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Silos, abbey of


Santo Domingo de Silos, Spanish Benedictine monastery in southern Burgos founded by Fernán González on July 3, 954. It was almost deserted and in ruins in 1041, when Ferdinand I sent DOMINIC OF SILOS to restore it. Dominic made arrangements for the material needs, built the church, began the cloister, enriched the library, and instituted a scriptorium that produced such codexes as the MS of the Etymologies of ISIDORE OF SEVILLE, now in the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale, and the wonderfully illuminated MS of the Commentary on the Apocalypse of BEATUS OF LIÉBANA, now in the British Museum. Dominic was buried in the cloister at the time of his death (Dec. 20, 1073). The translation of his relics to the church in 1076 by King, prelates, and people was equivalent to canonization. The name of the monastery was then changed from San Sebastián to Santo Domingo, and the tomb became the most important pilgrimage center in Castile.

As a result, the monastery prospered. A splendid transept was added to the church c. 1100, the cloister was expanded, and throughout the 12th century the library was increased. From Silos came Grimaldus, who wrote an account of Dominic’s life and miracles c. 1088, and the historian in León who wrote the chronicle known as Silense. Donations from princes and the faithful brought Silos dozens of churches, towns, and priories—such as San Frutos in Segovia. In 1118 Pope Gelasius II made Silos immediately subject to the Holy See. When Paschasius was abbot (1170–84), St. DOMINIC (GUZMÁN), who was named for the founder of Silos and educated in the monastery, was born nearby. Rodrigo Iñiguez Guzmán, Silos’s most illustrious abbot of the 13th century (1242–76), came from the same family. In this period Gonzalo de Berceo wrote a life of St. Dominic of Silos in Castilian verse, and Pero Marín composed an enchanting account of the saint’s miracles. A visitation ordered by Benedict XII (1338) showed that Silos had 30 monks and a revenue of 39,000 maravedis. Several nearby hermits, the sick in the hospital of San Lázaro, eight lay brothers, 60 servants, and two women in seclusion (or confinement) depended on the abbey, which in the years just previously had suffered great losses. There was a material and spiritual decline until Silos joined the Congregation of Valladolid in 1512. Thereafter it prospered in all aspects for 300 years. During the Napoleonic Wars, Dominic Moreno, later bishop of Cadiz, saved Silos from ruin, but it could not survive the suppression of religious orders in 1833. Its rich collection of medieval MSS was scattered, mostly to London and Paris, but the buildings were preserved, thanks to French monks who began a restoration under Abbot Guépin in 1880.

Silos in 1964 was a flourishing abbey of the Congregation of SOLESMES with some 20 old MSS in its archives, several excellent gold treasures (such as the chalice St. Dominic had made), and the Romanesque altar front of wrought copper. One wing of the old transept remains with its excellent original art. The rest, however, was ruined in the 18th century when the monks raised over it a baroque church after the plans of Ventura Rodriguez. Fortunately the Romanesque cloister, one of the most beautiful in the world, is intact with its two stories, 74 capitals, and eight corner reliefs that offer, in some of the most striking sculpture of the Middle Ages, a complete survey of Romanesque art in the late 11th and early 12th century. The upper cloister and the reliefs of the Annunciation and the tree of Jesse date from the early 12th century. The realistic ceiling decoration of the lower cloister, with its assorted paintings by a mudéjar of few scruples, is from the late 14th century.

Bibliography: Enciclopedia universal ilustrada Europeo-Americana (Barcelona 1908–30) 54:377–393. M. FÉROTIN, Histoire de l’abbaye de Silos (Paris 1897); ed., Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Silos (Paris 1897). L. DELISLE , ‘‘Les Manuscrits de Silos dans la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris,’’ Mélanges de paléographie et de bibliographie (Paris 1880) 53–116. E. M. THOMPSON, ed., Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum in the Years 1876–1881 (London 1882). W. M. WHITEHILL and J. PÉREZ DE URBEL, ‘‘Los manuscritos del real monasterio de S. Domingo de Silos,’’ Bolotín de la Real Academia de la Historia 95 (1929) 521–601. E. ROULIN , L’Ancien trésor de l’Abbaye de Silos (Paris 1901); ‘‘Les Claustres de l’Abbaye de Silos,’’ Revue de l’art chrétien 59 (1909); 60 (1910). A. M. HUNTINGTON, ed., Initials and Miniatures of the IXth, Xth, and XIth Centuries From the Mozarabic Manuscripts of Santo Domingo de Silos in the British Museum (New York 1904). R. DE PINEDO, Ensayo sobre el Simbolismo Religioso en las construcciones ecclesiásticas de la Edad Media (Burgos 1924). J. PÉREZ DE URBEL, El Claustro de Silos (Burgos 1930); Historia del condado de Castilla, 3 v. (Madrid 1945). H. LECLERCQ, Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed., F. CABROL, H. LECLERCQ and H. I. MARROU (Paris 1907–53) 15.1:1452–54. L. H. COTTINEAU , Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés (Mâcon 1935–39) 2: 3036–37.


New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2003. Vol. 13. P. 120-121.

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