Published on :   05/31/2015

A Day in Saint-Émilion and Europe's Largest Monolithic Church

Have you ever stood in front of something, in total confusion about how it could possibly exist?

That’s how I felt today, as I stood inside the massive Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion. Meticulously carved out of a single limestone, this church is the largest of its kind in Europe and took hundreds of years to complete. Can you imagine the endless hours of carving it took to create an entire church out of stone? Humanity amazes me sometimes.

As part of our excursion today, we were given exclusive access to this church and its catacombs, sights reserved only for those with a special key. Curious onlookers stared enviously as we slipped into the private gates of the Church. “CroisiEurope only,” they were told. If you’re wondering, yes, I felt incredibly special, and strutted into that church like a VIP!

Once inside, photos were prohibited. We entered the catacombs through a creaky door on the side of the church and upon the first step in, we were immediately immersed in darkness. It was an eerie feeling to know that I was standing in a space that, for centuries, housed the remains of the town’s most important inhabitants.

Now, the exterior of the church is simple and unassuming, but you wouldn’t believe how large it is on the inside. Once again, I’d like to remind you, every bit of this church was carved out of stone! While the frescoes that once adorned the walls are mostly gone, the remaining bits here and there hint at what the church must have looked like at its prime. Tall pillars (now secured with metal braces) support the structure, whose ceilings extend 36 feet above ground. In addition to the remaining monuments, small pieces of the stone floor were removed, allowing visitors to peek into the drainage system and graves that lay below.

After an incredible tour of the church’s interior, we were given some free time to ourselves, and I did what I do best: wander aimlessly. From the main square, I decided that I wanted to get as high up as I possibly could. This led to a steep climb to the Church’s bell tower, where I got an incredible panoramic view over the town and the main square.

I love when aimless wandering pays off! I even managed to stumble upon a TV set during my explorations. Apparently, French TV personality Stéphane Bern was in town filming a segment for the TV special, “Le Village Préféré des Francais”, or “France’s Favourite Village”. Keep an eye out – you might see me awkwardly treading through the background of a scene!

After another delicious dinner on the boat, I mustered up the self-discipline to go for a run on the sun deck. Luckily for me, I arrived right at sunset, and had the most spectacular backdrop possible for this bit of exercise! As the fiery sun fell behind its curtain of clouds, the whole sky was plunged in a bright orange. Even though it was freezing up top, and the wind was whipping my hair in all directions, I could have stood there forever. Maybe this is a sign that I should go running more often!

I really enjoyed my day in Saint-Émilion, and as the tour guide said, I got to discover the town in a way most other visitors cannot! No doubt, this Medieval gem is far more than just wine and macarons. 

Tomorrow, we’re back to Bordeaux for a tour of the city, before heading off on our last stop of the cruise. Time is passing by too quickly… I can’t believe Cruise #2 is almost over!

Talk to you soon!

- Christina