Monolithic Church of Saint-Emilion, Aquitaine, France

Rising dramatically against a rocky backdrop, Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church, constructed in the early twelfth century, is partly subterranean. Its three naves, with a small catacomb beneath, were dug into a rocky hillside.

This region of southern France drew attention in the eighth century when Emilion, a Breton monk, fled to escape persecution by the Benedictine Order. Emillon adopted an eremitic existence, living in a cave, was said to perform miracles, and attracted a following of monks. The region became known as Saint-Emilion. It acquired wealth and prominence due to wine production and to its strategic position along a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

A number of religious monuments were established, with Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church, being the most well-known. The church’s 53-meter-high bell-tower was a notable landmark, though by the late twentieth century the 3,000 ton weight of the tower shifted, making it susceptible to collapse.

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