St-Émilion Part 2: Above and Below

Today continues Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour of St-Émilion: Bordeaux’s citadel to Merlot.  Flu still numbs our adventurers’ palates, so we opt for a city tour instead of wine.  The whole city is a UNESCO site, so why not?

We pass more wine-shops than people.  The Roman “Cadene” Gate begins our slippery descent into the ancient core.  It is a hodgepodge of eras with a home from 1291. *meh!*


House of the Cadene

We stumble past our less adventurous tourers, nearly falling in our rush.  Then we mass into a small pocket: i.e. town square.  An ancient market gapes to our left.


Glorious shade!

But instead of shade, we get to squint up at the sun-bleached bell tower: all 53 meters of it.  To get a feel for this reverse Vertigo: imagine Cary Grant doing a head-stand.



We look down to find out those head-level windows are the ceiling of the monolithic subterranean church.  So we’re standing on a roof.  Oh yes, we’re going in.

St-Émilion capitalized (both figuratively and financially) on medieval pilgrims stopping on their journey to Santiago de Compostela.   It didn’t hurt to have a sainted hermit: Mr. Émilion himself.  Here is the chapel (right) built over his hidey-hole:


Not Canadian, I just like the shirt.

Once underground, no photos are allowed.  So I furiously sketch what I can.  Eyes adjust to the cream glow of the Chapelle de la Trinité: charming, small, with pastel-pale 14th century frescoes.


Orbi et Urbi

But we dig deeper.  We descend to our saint’s hovel.   The spring that sustained him still drips.  A statue of Valerie: patron saint of vines (yes vines) looks blankly on.  She could use a drink.

Further on, darker, damper, we trip over wet stones.  Then a shaft of light cuts through a black vault.


Flying saucer?

A massive vault cuts into bedrock and up to the sky. Around the portal, cropped alien torsos stretch arms as if in mid-resurrection.  Catacomb tombs line the wall like built-in bookshelves.

Then we shuffle into the Monolithic Cathedral.  The only light casts from those market square windows we saw earlier.  It is surreal and massive.

Monolithic Cathedral

A pale reflection.

15,000 cubic were cut for it.  Those arches reach 20 meters high.  A Brachiosaurus could casually walk around.   And then strange carvings line the walls: angels, demons, animals.  All of which became meaningless when the French Revolution turned it into a factory.  Progress!

Standing here, it’s hard to believe that that 53 meter bell tower presses directly above us.

Back out to the sun’s blare, with tour over, we stare back at this strange collage of limestone.

St Emilion Monolithic

Bleached magnificence.

Our St-Émilion adventure continues next post with a sweet discovery and vinous discussion.


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