The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean visitor guide

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The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean is an incredible church hewn out of rock situated in the very pretty village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in the Charente department near to the border with the Dordogne.

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is 20 kilometers west of Riberac, a busy market town in the Dordogne department.

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France This Way review: Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is a charming village with a vibrant atmosphere and is also home to this incredible church carved out of the rock. Definitely a village worth a visit.

The underground church of Saint Jean in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is one of the most important rock-hewn churches in France. There are two others in the general area. One at Saint-Emilion and a small hermitage at Mortagne-sur-Gironde. Of these the church of Saint-Jean is the tallest.

Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean was carved into the limestone cliff in the 7th century and then expanded by Benedictine monks in the 12th century copying that of the holy sepulcher discovered in Jerusalem during the first crusade.

At its highest point it is 20 meters high! 15 meters high there is a gallery carved into the stone with lots of arches which can be reached up a stone staircase carved into the rock. The view from the gallery gives a real sense of the incredible endeaver this has been to hack out this church. It is one of the largest such churches in Europe.

On ground level there is a stone Reliquary carved in simple Romanesque fashion. It is carved out of a single block of stone and is 6 meters tall. There is also a total immersion baptismal font carved into the floor and there is also a stone cross carved into the wall.

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One of the most incredible parts of the church though is the chamber containing around 170 individual tombs carved into the rock floor. Each has its head facing the direction of Jerusalem.

The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean was originally used by pilgrims on route for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was used as a church until the French revolution when it was converted into a workshop for making saltpeter which is the main ingredient of gunpowder.

The church is now a Monument Historique and open to visitors all year round.

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is classified as one of the 'most-beautiful villages of France' and is worth a visit in its own right. As well as the pretty centre the church of Saint-Jacques has an elaborate facade and portail and there are also two convents.

sarcophagus in the Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Places to visit nearby

This is a quiet part of the Charente with no major attractions nearby but the local villages have a few historic sites to see. There are five castles in the vicinity. These are at Mareuil-en-Perigord, Villebois-Lavalette, Charmant, Neuvic sur l'Isle and the Chateau de la Mercerie.

Further away but well worth a visit is the beautiful village of Brantome which sits on a bend of the Dronne river and also the stunning town of Perigueux which has a medieval centre and also a number of Roman remains.

The monolithic church of Saint Jean is one of the tallest but the monolithic church of Saint-Emilion is the largest in Europe. Saint-Emilion is a beautiful village too.

See more churches in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Charente guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also: 

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Map of The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean and places nearby


Visit near The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean with France This Way reviews



The attractive village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is also well known for its imposing troglodyte church

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne guide


Riberac, a quiet and traditional town, is well known for the large market held here each Friday

Riberac guide


The village of Villebois-Lavalette is pleasant to explore, and also has a castle to see

Villebois-Lavalette guide


Charmant is another pleasant Charente town, with a small castle and a church as well as the source of the river Boeme

Charmant guide
Chateau de la Mercerie

Chateau de la Mercerie

The Chateau de la Mercerie is a manor house with a substantial wing added in the 20th century, and now recently restored

Chateau de la Mercerie guide


The village of Mareuil in Mareuil-en-Perigord was one of the four baronies of the Perigord and its castle can be visited in the summer.

Mareuil-en-Perigord guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Charente

The French version of this page is at The Subterranean Monolithic Church of Saint-Jean (Francais)


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