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3134: Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain
S Domingo de Silos (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Burgos
The building: In the good old Visigothic days, which surely provided the plots for at least one faux-mediæval sword and sorcery drama series, an abbey dedicated to St Sebastian was built on this spot. Fernando the Great commissioned the engineer Domingo de Silos (venerated after his death as the patron saint of prisoners, expectant mothers, and shepherds) to rebuild the abbey, which was soon named after him, and which lasted until the secularization of the monasteries in 1835. A half-century later, the Benedictines of Solesmes took it over, and run it to this day. The building is stark and characterized by its great arches and vaults. All of the monastery's activities center around its two-storey cloister, a masterpiece of Romanesque art. The various pillars of the cloister are carved with bas-relief post-Crucifixion biblical scenes: the entombment of Jesus; the three Marys at the empty tomb; the Doubting Thomas; Jesus on the road to Emmaus; Pentecost; etc. The Silos library was the main repository of Mozarabic liturgical manuscripts until they were auctioned in 1878 (many are now in the British Library and in Paris). The library still contains the Missal of Silos, the oldest Western manuscript on paper.
The church: This is the church for the monastery; the parish church of San Pedro is a bit to the east. Visitors are welcome to tour the grounds and attend the divine office and mass. Access to the library, however, is restricted to researchers.
The neighbourhood: The entire pueblo of Santo Domingo de Silos is centred around the monastery and is a Conjunto histórico, or protected historic site. In recent years, partly due to a 1994 hit Gregorian chant CD (which is available for purchase in the Abbey gift shop), it has become an ecclesiastical tourist centre with a number of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts providing accommodation for folk travelling from throughout Spain and Europe to tour the Abbey.
The cast: There was no notice or announcement. There were about 15 monks in habits, two of them very elderly indeed and one of them bent double with age, but most in their 30s or 40s, with close-cropped beards à la Ignatius Loyola.
The date & time: 2 October 2016, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Vespers.

How full was the building?
With room for about 600, I counted 176 men and 245 women. There was a good age spread, but perhaps most were in their middle years. People were respectably, if not formally, dressed, and pretty well all could be called prosperous. I spotted three with knights' rosettes.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
They don’t do greeters in Spain. However, the two monks in the courtyard were very hospitable and we had a brief conversation.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was not noticeably comfortable or uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a lot of congregational shuffling around. We had some painful feedback as the sound system was adjusted. Considering that they had picked up a Grammy and had three CDs on the press, I would have thought that they had this wrapped up.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Dios mío, ven en mi auxilio (My God, come to my aid), from Psalm 40.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
An extract from the Liturgy of the Hours– Second Vespers, a 16-page Latin/Castilian text for evening prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ underpinning the chant.

Did anything distract you?
I was intrigued by the substantial numbers coming into the church.

S Domingo de Silos (Cloister)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was quite formal in a Benedictine and monastic way, but well executed and decidedly non-participatory. Still, it somehow escaped being a concert.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I like vespers. Vespers, along with cats that don't make me sneeze, will surely feature in a just God's heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was apparent to me that many of the congregation had come to hear a performance, not to participate in a service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went out the door with the rest of the river of humanity.

S Domingo de Silos (Doubting Thomas)
Photo: © Sailko and used under license

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Again, no coffee, but a reasonable dinner of lamb awaited me.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – If I lived there, I would like to drop in once or twice a week while likely basing myself out of the parish church. I’ll give it a 6.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I love vespers. They did a good job of it, and I enjoyed having the Castilian text in front of me.

S Domingo de Silos (Monks)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Even though the service felt a bit like a dry performance for me, on the way out I noted a poster informing us that four of their monks were to be beatified in two weeks’ time as martyrs. Clearly they don’t just sing
.

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