The whole of the Collegiate: a very official church
Arriving in Saint-Emilion,the most impressive church that stands out from the upper town is the Collegiate church. It’s not a fortunate coincidence. The religious community that lived in those walls between the 12th and the 18th century was a college of Canons following the rule of Saint Augustin and embodying the official religious institution. The etymology of the word canon helps us to understand their mission: it comes from the Ancient Greek “Kanôn” what means “the rule”. Bordeaux’s Archbishop Delegates, they were making sure of the good functioning of Saint-Emilion’s religious life. So the scale of this monument shows the importance of this community and its intention to mark his ascendancy.
The construction started in 1110 at the request of the Archbishop Arnaud Géraud de Cabanac. The transept and the core of the Collegiate church were transformed between the 13th and 15th centuries, letting the gothic style influencing the architecture of the church.
The Collegiate is not just a place of worship but also a real place of life for the community. In the garden of the cloister we can see all the faces of the monastery. From here, the Canons could go in all the other buildings of the convent. The three circular arches on the East wall are marking the former entrance of the Chapter room no longer existing nowadays. The current Tourism Office is located in the former refectory of the community.
Thus the cloister is geographic and spiritual hub for the monastery. It is a closed place for prayer, where the only real exit is the one towards the sky, the central garden being a symbol of the garden of Eden. Notice on South and East walls, the graves richly decorated dating 13th and 14th century.
Members of nobility and religious order were buried there. The Canons of Saint-Emilion, so powerful on the religious plan, also had a role to play on the political level. They taxed the population and offered to the local elite a grave of choice, in the heart of their monastery.
However classic appear the monastery from the outside, it housed a very particular religious community, until the French revolution. Today the Collegiate church is the parish church of the village.
The rich heritage of Saint-Emilion is told, in English, during the guided tour "Saint-Emilion, Unesco City Tour": from April till October at 11:00 am. More information and ticketing here.