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Carrión de los Condes, Palencia

Monastery of San Zoilo

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Today the monastery of San Zoilo is largely a baroque edifice, due to its reconstruction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the monastery was one of the most important on the Iberian Peninsula, at times overseeing the branch of the Cluniac Order in Spain. Originally dedicated to St. John the Baptist (1), the monastery later came under the patronage of Count Gómez Diaz and Countess Teresa Peláez, whose son, Fernando, purportedly brought from Córdoba the relics of Saints Félix, Agapio, and Zoilo -- the monastery's new patron saint (2). In 1076, Teresa donated San Zoilo to Cluny (3), sparking a grand rebuilding of the site in the Romanesque style and ushering in the most prosperous era of the monastery. San Zoilo saw its fair share of illustrious guests and events during that time, including Alfonso VII's audience with Diego Gelmírez (archbishop of Santiago de Compostela) and two royal weddings (4).


In the 1990s, restoration attempts to transform the former monastery into a boutique hotel led to the discovery of magnificent Romanesque remains hidden by the later reconstruction (5). The main discovery was the eleventh-century church's west portal, complete with four sculpted capitals, that is nestled inside the monastery. This interior placement tells us that only monks and the occasional aristocratic visitors would have had access to this portal, and so the sculpted imagery thereon was likely intended for this exclusive group of elite audience. Have this thought in mind when you explore 3D models of the portal and other detached sculpted features below. 

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SZ portal
SZ portal 3D

[West Portal]

SZ cap A


The two faces of this capital feature two nearly identical groups of figures: two men bearing a winged bust of an eidolon beneath a lion's head and two large, looping volutes. The central eidolon seems to be holding an object, possibly a book. The four standing figures are wearing fine clothing, with decorated necklines and cuffs, falling in tubular folds across their legs (6).

SZ cap B

[2nd from left]

In this capital, we see a pair of dragon-like beasts on each side -- their serpentine bodies facing each other, complete with wings and coiling tails. Curiously, they all seem to be moulded in a vertical position, as if they were standing on their tails. 

SZ cap C

[2nd from right]

This is the only identifiable biblical scene of the four portal capitals. On the outer face, we see a figure astride a donkey, whose front hoof almost reaches across the corner to the inner side. There, we see an angel -- his left hand points a finger at the rider as if in warning, while his right hand holds a now-broken sword. This imagery is widely recognised as the Old Testament story of Balaam and the Ass (Numbers 22) (7)

SZ cap D


On each of the two faces we see a man bending over, tending to grape vines. Overhead, a figure, unbeknownst to the labouring man, has the topmost vines in his grips. Although this imagery likely has many possible meanings and associations, one of those may be an allusion to the sacramental wine.

Interior nave capital

San Zoilo

Interior Nave Capital

[Detached cloister capital]

This is one of the rare two capitals preserved in their original positions along the nave, half covered by later baroque walls. A curious assortment of animals pile atop one another. Two lions are at the bottom, their jaws gripped by two men standing at the corners of the capital, while a pair of birds perch on the lions' backs. A lion head or mask - similar to the one on the left-most portal capital - closes its mouth on the birds' tails.

SZ detached

San Zoilo

Group of Detached Capitals and Corbels

There are six detached capitals--three figural and three vegetal--that have been found during the recent renovations and excavations of San Zoilo. Those sculpted on all four faces seem to have been from the medieval cloister (today destroyed and rebuilt in Plateresque style), while the others may have been from various places in the church. 

[Detached cloister capital]

Men and Creatures


A man is shown sitting or squatting at the centre of each face, his arms bent and extending to the sides, where biped creatures squat on all four of the capital's corners.

[Detached cloister capital]



Eight lions are distributed across the capital's faces. Their legs create a rhythmic pattern across the shafts terminating the capital and leading to the supporting columns. Traces of the original polychromy remain.

[Detached cloister capital]

Vegetal Scrollwork

[Detached cloister capital]

Vegetal Scrollwork

[Detached cloister capital]

Vegetal Scrollwork


Head of a canine, possibly a wolf.


Floral motif with a bird.


(1) For more on this, see María Luisa Palacio Sánchez-Izquierdo, San Zoil de Carrión: siglos XI – XIV (Palencia: Imprinta Provincial, 1990), 251-300.

(2) See “Segund se cree inspirado diuinalmente,” Libro misceláneo, in Palacio Sánchez-Izquierdo, “Colección diplomática del monasterio de San Zoilo de Carrión (siglo XI - XV),” vol. 2 (PhD diss., Universidad Complutense 1988), 642; and Patrick Henriet and José Carlos Martín-Iglesias, “Le dossier hagiographique de Zoïle de Carrión dans le manuscrit Madrid, BNE, 11556 (XIIe siècle): Étude et edition,” Veleia: Revista de prehistoria, historia antigua, arqueología, y filología clásicas 32 (2014): 448-449.

(3) Palacio Sanchez-Izquierdo, “Colección diplomática,” vol. 2, 19-20.

(4) Bernard F. Reilly, The Kingdom of León-Castilla Under King Alfonso VII, 1126-1157 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

(5) José Luis Senra Gabriel y Galán, “La portada occidental recientemente descubierta en el monasterio de San Zoilo de Carrión de los Condes,” Archivo Español de Arte 67, no. 265 (1994): 57.

(6) For a more detailed description on all four capitals at the west portal, see Senra, “La portada occidental," 59-63.

(7) See Senra, “La portada occidental,” 62-63; Javier Castán Lanaspa, “Una portada románica con capiteles historiados en Carrión de los Condes (Palencia),” in Homenaje al profesor Martín González, ed. Juan José Martín González (Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 1995),  308; and Marta Poza Yagüe, “Las portadas de los prioratos cluniacenses de Tierra de Campos en tiempos de Alfonso VI: una iconografía de corte monástico para una manifestación pública,” Anales de Historia del Arte 2 (2011): 253-256.

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