Summer visit: Saying hi to Beato de Liébana

Visiting the valley and monastery of Liébana, where the first Beatus was copied.

Time ago I wrote two posts on Beato de Liébana, the monk and intellectual, and the ‘Beatos’, his Commentaries to the Apocalypse of St John.

The first one dealt with Beato and his cultural context, tainted with heretic movements and deeply marked by the common belief that the end of the world will arrive in the year 800, hiding much more of what we may initially think about the period: it depicts not only a religious context but reveals itself as a summary of medieval doctrine and theological symbolism and a good example of educational methods in 8th-century Iberian Peninsula. Although I wrote it time ago and have expanded my research on the topic, it is still useful as an introduction to the ‘Beatos’. [you can read the post here]

The second was focused on one of the 32 exemplars of ‘Beatos’, the codices, preserved: The Beato of Silos kept at the British Library (Add. mss. 11695). It was finished in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in 1109. This post was the second one of the ‘Codex of the month’ series and included a summary of the contents of the codex, its physical description, notes on its context, personal comments and an appendix with a short list of another ‘Beatos’ copied in Visigothic script. [you can read the post here]

As some of you may know, next semester I will be working at King’s College London as a Marie Curie researcher with a project based on the study of the Beato of Silos – I will write about this soon. Thus, before moving to London, I thought it will be a good idea to take some time off and “say hi” to Beato.


Monastery of Silos, cloister.

Our trip started at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, near Burgos, where the now British Library copy of the Beato was made. The famous cypress of the Romanic cloister welcomed us. Silos still has a large collection of Visigothic script manuscripts, but I did not want to bother the archivist just for the OMG moment – what I will indeed do in the future though.


“Bestiaria” at the Museum of Human Evolution. © Ainoa Castro Correa.

As it happens, in Burgos, at the Museum of Human Evolution there is a temporary exhibition (until the end of August) that helped continue our journey, discovering how beasts, so characteristic of the Beatos, were depicted throughout the centuries.

Bestiaria: el descubrimiento de un reino

La exposición muestra a través de 80 piezas cómo el reino animal ha sido conocido y representado gráficamente a lo largo de los siglos hasta llegar al presente. Esta muestra se sustenta fundamentalmente en imágenes de códices, libros y grabados. Incluye igualmente esculturas, esqueletos y figuras anatómicas, así como reconstrucciones tridimensionales. La muestra comienza con las representaciones animales en los libros medievales y con animales exóticos mal conocidos en la Edad Media, pero de los que existían referencias clásicas o bíblicas, así como seres mitológicos que existieron en el imaginario colectivo. La exposición hace un repaso posterior por el Renacimiento y el Barroco, cuando ya la imprenta difunde las primeras zoologías que podemos considerar científicas. ‘Bestiaria, el descubrimiento de un reino’ es un viaje en el tiempo y el espacio que comienza con la reproducción de una pintura rupreste de Altamira y termina con la visión tridimensional que se puede hacer en el siglo XXI de piezas de laboratorio. “Ofrece una mirada que empieza en las tinieblas y acaba asomada al microscopio”, como señala Ricardo Piñero (Universidad de Salamanca), comisario de la muestra junto con Ignacio de Gaspar (Universidad Complutense de Madrid). En palabras de Juan Luis Arsuaga, director científico del Museo de la Evolución Humana (MEH), esta exposición “pretende repensar la ‘historia cultural’ de los animales en relación con los hombres, o mejor aún, reconstruir la historia de los hombres sin perder el horizonte de su animalidad. Temporalidad, imaginación, enigma, convicción… son eslabones que irán desgranando y perfilando los matices de este ensueño que es contar la historia de las bestias”.

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Picos de Europa National Park.

After a short visit to Aguilar de Campoo for an excellent course on calligraphy – I will also write about it soon –, we drove to Los Picos de Europa, an extremely beautiful National Park in Cantabria, for the main stop of our route: Potes. There, in the middle of nowhere, was where Beato de Liébana lived and developed his career.


Monastery of Sto Toribio de Líébana. © Ainoa Castro Correa.

The monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana is now unfortunately more focused in the fragment of the Lignum Crucis it has than in Beato, but still keeps a small display of facsimiles of several Beatos on the cloister. It was enlightening just to be there and imagine how the monastery must have been in the 8th century! Luckily, in the nearby Potes, the capital of the National Park, there is a permanent exhibition devoted to explain in detail what the Beatos, the codices, meant and how to interpret them.


Exhibition about the Beatos in Potes. © Ainoa Castro Correa.

The exhibition results very instructive and I recommend everyone to visit it. Besides a close examination to the contents of the Beatos, with interactive games, and the always nice view of several of the exemplars in facsimiles, the exhibition had an unexpected surprise in one area called scriptorium:


Scriptorium. © Ainoa Castro Correa.

I am not used to such detail in an exhibition for the general public, moreover displayed with two small cabinets with the most common utensils used for copying and illuminating these medieval codices.


Basic utensils: inkwell, quill, penna, calamo, horns, quill shaper, knives, hole punch, plumb pen, rule, set square, tablets, and stiletto. © Ainoa Castro Correa.


Inks: pigments, eraser, gold leaf, brushes, meter, rule, quill, and pencil. © Ainoa Castro Correa.

What do you think about our trip?

I am now ready to start my research with the Silos Apocalypse !

by A. Castro

[edited 12/07/2018]

4 Comments | Leave your comment

liz read

Terrific! Always been fascinated by this Silos at Santa Domingo…wonderful to see the photos and especially to realise what superb country lies so close by. Makes it a reall desirable destination. thank you!



Thanks for reading Liz!


Joan Vilaseca

What a great combination, Beatus and London! Have a good time there, congratulations!



Muchas gracias Joan!

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