Eglise monolithe Saint Jean

Église monolithe d'Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Useful Information

Location: Aubeterre sur Dronne, Rue Saint Jean
Open: SEP to JUN daily 9:30-12:30, 14-18.
JUL to AUG daily 9:30-12:30, 14-19.
Fee: Adults EUR 5, Children (8-12) EUR 2, Children (0-6) free, Students EUR 3, Disabled EUR 3 € Groups (20+): Adults EUR 4.
Classification: SubterraneaMonolithic Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: Nave: L=17.4 m, W=11 m, H=17 m.
Guided tours:
Address: Eglise Souterraine Saint-Jean, Rue Saint Jean, 16390 Aubeterre sur Dronne, Tel: +33-545-986506. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


8th century cave church built.
12th century enlarged by Benedictine monks.
1950s church rediscovered.
03-SEP-1912 declared a Monument historique (historic monument).


The Église monolithe d'Aubeterre-sur-Dronne (Monolithic Church of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne) is a cave church, carved out a mighty cliff along the Dronne valley, overlooking the village Aubeterre. The cave church was built in the 8th century, so it is early Roman. During the 12th century it was considerably enlarged by Benedictine monks. Today it is one of the largest rock-hewn churches of France, declared a historic monument in 1912. The parish church is dedicated to St. John, so it is also named Eglise monolithe Saint Jean.

The church has a nave with an 17 m high ceiling, and an aisle which is separated by a row of octagonal pillars. The pillars and their capitals are also hewn from the massive rock. At the ceiling, the church is surrounded by a gallery, which can be reached on an underground staircase behind the far wall. And even the underground church has an underground, below the nave lies a second floor, the crypt. The necropolis has hundreds of stone tombs or sarcophagi, where the monks were buried.

This church was intended to store religious artifacts. A series of pits can be found in the floor, where they were buried. The most important ones were put into a reliquary, placed where normally the altar would be. Its design is inspired by the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it looks like a small building, hexagonal with two stories. The reason for this relic cult is probably the location along the Road to Santiago, the old pilgrims way to Santiago di Compostela in northern Spain. The pilgrims made a stop at Aubeterre and said some prayers in front of the miraculous relic.

A rockfall in the Middle Ages closed the entrance of the church. About this event no background knowledge exists, for example when it happened, if the collapse was natural or artificial. And the most important question: why was it not reopened? Compared with the construction of such a big church, the excavation of an entryway would be easy. However, the church was lost and rediscovered in the 1950s.

The underground of the town Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) chalky limestone. This rock is typical for southern Charente. It is rather soft, which means easy to dig holes, but also rather stable. There are few cracks which would influence the stability, all in all an ideal situation to build underground structures with minimal effort.

And a last word about the name eglise monolithe (monolithic church). This is the name of a special kind of churches, which is cut completely out of a monolith, a big rock. So actually Saint Jean is not a monolithic church for two reasons: the front opening was closed by a wall, and the back is massive rock. A monolithic church would have an outside or facade, cut into the same rock. Saint Jean is what is generally called a cave church or cave temple.