Saint Emilion and the hermit Emilian
The magnificent medieval village of Saint Emilion overlooks the Dordogne Valley.
It is located 40km slightly north-east of Bordeaux in the Gironde département in South-West France.
Both the village and the mythical vineyard were listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO on December 2, 1999.
The first reference to Saint Emilion goes back to the 8th century when a Benedictine monk from Brittany, Emilian, retreated in a cave atop the hill and near a spring.
The many miracles he performed quickly gained him fame and people traveled from far away to come and seek advice from the old hermit.
After his death, the grotto where he lived was patiently enlarged out of the rock and transformed to house his ashes.
Saint Emilion’s gates
Saint Emilion is without any doubt one of these unique sites that you must visit when in France.
The village clings on the hillside and overlooks the outstanding vineyard.
You just have to stroll along the steep and uneven lanes locally known as tertres.
You will discover a wealth of architectural and historical features at each street corner.
The village was built with the solid ocher limestone extracted from the kilometers of local underground galleries.
This results in a subtle harmony of warm colours which vary in shade with the intensity of the light as the day progresses.
Watching the sun setting down on the roofs of Saint Emilion is one of the most enjoyable sights.
Saint Emilion village was built in a natural amphitheatre at the junction of two hills.
It is still protected by a fairly well preserved and restored stone wall pierced with five gateways known as Porte Bourgeoise, Porte Brunet, Porte Bouqueyre, Porte St-Martin and Porte du Chapitre.
Discover them by strolling along the steep cobbled lanes that follow the interior of the ramparts.
Saint Emilion – Porte and Maison de la Cadène
If you follow the road from the valley you will enter Saint Emilion by the Rue Gadet where you will find parking spaces along the pavement if you have missed the two large car parks located at the bottom of the hill.
Farther up the street you will find the Rue Cadène, the street leading to Place de l’Eglise Monolithe.
The picturesque lane is span by the superb Gothic arched Porte Cadène.
The gate was built long after the ramparts and is located inside the fortified village.
It is flanked by a superb 15th century timbered-frame house known as Maison de la Cadène.
The present house dates from the early 16th century as it replaces the house built in the late 13th century by Guillaume Renaud de la Cadène.
It is believed that the name Cadène evolved from the Latin Cadena meaning chain.
This would suggest that the gate was equipped with a chain to control the traffic between the upper town and lower town.
Saint Emilion – Eglise Monolithe and Halles – Covered market
The Place de l’Eglise Monolithe is the heart of the village.
You will find shops, restaurants and cafes but also the superb covered market or Halles once used for the storage and sale of wheat (not wine!).
The beautifully well restored building housed the village hall from the late 18th century to 1902.
The main attraction in Saint Emilion is without any doubt the stunning Eglise Monolithe.
The impressive belfry peaks 133m above the roofs of Saint Emilion and the Place de l’Eglise Monolithe.
The monks of the Benedictine convent founded near the cave where Saint Emilion was buried hollowed the adjacent grottoes to create the Ermitage.
The troglodyte chapel is the oldest building in Saint Emilion.
It was shaped as a Greek Cross and contains St-Emilian’s Bed.
The hermit’s armchair was carved from the rock next to the small Saint Emilion Spring.
A statue of of the saint hermit stands above the altar.
Other underground galleries were enlarged and used as ossuary – Catacombes for many centuries.
You will find their entrance in the cliff by the Ermitage.
The monks built the Holly Trinity Chapel – Chapelle de la Trinité during the 13th century.
The small sanctuary is a superb illustration of Gothic style.
The interior of the Eglise Monolithe was patiently carved out of a single block of limestone by enlarging the existing caves and galleries between the 8th and the 12th century.
It is an almost unique feature.
The Eglise Monolith is the largest monolithic church in Europe.
The interior strikes by the symmetry of the architecture and of the square pillars supporting the belfry.
Hundred and ninety eight steps will take you atop the tower.
The climb is worth it as you will enjoy one of the most magnificent views over the village, the surrounding vineyards and countryside.
Saint Emilion – Collegiate Church and Cloisters
The Tertre de la Tente, a lovely but very steep and uneven cobbled lane links the square to the Rue du Clocher and the entrance to the belfry of the Monolith Church on Place du Clocher.
The square boasts superb views over the village.
It is a great place to stop for lunch and a glass of wine.
There you will find the entrance to the Tourist office which was set up in a large building flanking the cloisters.
The building is known is as Doyenné (Deanery) and is believed to have been the monks’ refectory.
You will find the entrance to the cloisters to the right of the Doyenné.
Traces of the Romanesque cloisters – Cloître de la Collégiale can still be seen in the northern gallery flanking the collegiate and the western gallery.
The Gothic cloisters strike by their architectural elegance.
They were built during the 13th and 14th century, and remodeled during the 15th and 16th.
They have been beautifully restored and you will be able to admire splendid sculptures and the remains of medieval wall paintings.
The huge Romanesque Collegiate Church is considered one of the most impressive churches in the département of Gironde.
The nave, adorned with 12th century paintings beautifully restored, and the main entrance porch topped by the remains of a church tower (on Place Pierre Meyrat round the corner) , have both retained their original Romanesque features.
A superb 14th century porch marks its entrance on Place Pioceau on the northern side of the 14th century chancel.
The church contains a magnificent listed organ built in 1892 by Gabriel Cavaillé-Colle and 15th century carved stalls.
While on Place Meyrat have a look at the elegant Classical building built against the ramparts.
You will discover the top of the roof of the Logis de Mallet de Roquefort, peaking above that of the newer building.
The mansion was built during the 15th century and was entirely integrated into the newer building.
If you walk towards the Avenue du 8 Mai 1945 you will clearly see the former crenellated watch-path passing underneath its roof.
This is the original layout of the mansion!
Saint Emilion – Palais Cardinal
If you follow the Rue de l’Abbe Bergey and Rue Gadet you will arrive at the Porte Bourgeoise.
The gate opens onto the north and stands near to the vestiges of the Palais Cardinal, the episcopal palace built against the ramparts during the 12th century.
Saint Emilion – Tour du Roy
The Tour du Roy – Castel Daou Rey – King’s Tower is another major feature of the village.
The square tower peaks above the roofs on the western side of the village and is the only intact remaining keep in the Gironde département.
The massive tower was part of the 13th century Château du Roy.
The keep was used as village hall until 1720 and has found a marvelous use since as it is the place from where the yearly Vintage Banns are proclaimed.
Saint Emilion – Couvent des Ursulines
The Tour du Roy stands nearby the Couvent des Ursulines.
The convent was founded during the 17th century by the sisters who invented the recipe of the famous macaroons, the specialty of Saint Emilion!
Saint Emilion – Couvent des Cordeliers
The Porte Brunet is located on the eastern rampart and near the ruins of the Couvent des Cordeliers.
The monastery was erected in the late 14th century by the Franciscan Cordeliers in order to re-establish discipline in the religious community.
The cloisters escaped destruction during the French Revolution and were restored.
They have been converted into a peaceful garden for those who want to escape the busy village centre.
From there you can visit the vestiges of the monastery’s 15th century church belfry.
A Flamboyant Gothic arch serves as entrance to a series caves hollowed into the rock and used as storage for sparkling white and rosé wines.
Look attentively at the facades of the surrounding buildings and you will discover countless architectural features that escaped demolition.
It takes at least a half day to visit Saint Emilion, a whole day would be perfect as there is a lot to discover and may be enjoy the delicious wine…
Coordinates and map for Saint Emilion: Lat 44.894387 – Long -0.155729