We then attended a medieval festival in the lovely village of Lusignac before returning to the gite for a bar-b-q and a large strawberry tart for a birthday cake, followed by a swimming party with our hosts' children and the family from the neighbouring gite.
It was raining quite heavily this morning so we headed off for lunch at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne. The highlight of the trip, apart from a very reasonably priced lunch, was a visit to the Eglise Monolithe the Church of Saint-Jean.
(Saint-Jean of Aubeterre)
The church is carved into the cliff face and is an amazing structure. It is believed that there was a church at this site in the 5th or 6th century, however, the structure was developed in the 12th century by Benedictines. It is only once inside that one begins to appreciate just what must have been involved in developing the building with none of the tools or resources at our disposal today.
I was struck by the experience of the living worshipping community at the church we visited yesterday and the dedication of the faithful from the past who carved out their place of worship to the glory of God at Aubeterre.
Here are a few of the photos I took inside Saint-Jean. The first (right) is a view from the circular gallery and the two main structures visible are the baptismal font carved in the floor and the reliquary housed in the apse at the far end.
The font is believed to date back to the 5th/6th century and in its base is a Greek cross.
The reliquary is carved from the solid rock and is thought to be an interpretation of the Constantinian style of the tomb of Joseph of Arimethia to be found under the cupola of the church of Saint-Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is 6 metres high and 3 metres in diameter.
The picture below was taken from the apse and shows the two 20 metre hexagonal pillars which were again carved out of the rock.
In the upper part of the nave is the gallery with a suspended ambulatory. In former times a castle stood above the church and there was a hidden stair case linking the gallery to the castle and providing easy access for the lords to spy on the congregation and attend services.
Other features of the church include a burial chamber and a subterranean crypt. The crypt, only discovered in 1961 following the collapse of a roadway, is thought by many to date back to the Roman period and to have been used to celebrate baptism according to the rites of Mithras. This involved baptism with bull's blood and the cult was declared illegal in 395AD. The crypt was then altered over time and stalls were hollowed out in the walls on each side and used by monks.
The church is now used for concerts as well as occasional services including Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
(the crypt, Saint-Jean, Aubeterre)