Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is an amazing site. The church was carved out of the rocks from the upper side downwards. The crusader Pierre II de Castillon lived in the castle above it and reserved the best spot for himself, with view on the copy of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. Now you can visit this spot and see what he saw in the XIIth century.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is also called the Monolithic Church as it was carved out of the limestone rocks, however not out of a single rock. Still it is one of the largest rock-hewn churches in Europe. There is some discussion about the origin but the main carving job was done in the XIIth century by Benedictine monks. The way to carve it, from the upper side downwards, was influenced by early churches that can still be found in Turkey’s Kappadokia. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders must have past this region and be inspired by the way they were created and brought this idea back to France.
The work took 10 years. 9000 m3 of stone was removed! The church is 27 meters long, 20 meters high and 16 meters wide. In the middle of the floor you can find a beautiful baptismal pool, carved in the form of a Greek cross. Aubeterre Underground Church was hidden for centuries by a rock fall, and only rediscovered in the 1950′s.
Imagine the first people entering the site; their mouths must have fallen open. They might have lived next door for years without any idea of the miracle that was created there in medieval times. See also this photograph I took at the entrance: if that had not been built, one could easily pass the church unnoticed.
Aubeterre Underground Church has enormous high rounded vaults which tower above a monumental reliquary in the form of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. The religious artifacts are no longer there. They were brought to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne from Jerusalem by Pierre II de Castillon, crusader and lord of the castle situated above the church. There is an entrance through the rocks to go from the castle down to the deambulatory in the vaults of the church.
Visitors actually enter the church from downstairs and take stairs to go up to the deambulatory that is perched beneath the vaults. Here is the perfect spot where Pierre II as the lord of the castle could overview the whole church. Seeing the holy sepulchre from here creates a highly spiritual ambience. However, the deambulatory is also home for bats. Don’t let it influence your spiritual experience!
Aubeterre-sur-Dronne lies on the road to Santiago de Compostella and always had many pilgrims passing to see the relics.
Once back downstairs, don’t forget to have a view at the ‘cemetary’, on the side of the church: a complete necropolis that is also hewn out of the rock. It shows the popularity of the church and the holiness it had for visitors and inhabitants. All the graves head in the direction of Jerusalem.