The French village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, a commune in the Charente department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France, has been listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France since 1993. Part of its beauty lies in its architectural treasures, including the 11th-century Chateau d’Aubeterre, literally Aubeterre Castle, and the spectacular Church of Saint Jean, one of the largest underground churches in the world.
The origins of “L’église souterraine Saint Jean,” literally “The Underground Church of Saint Jean,” probably lie in the 11th century, when the concept of carving churches out of rocks was introduced by knights who had saw “rocky churches” in the Holy Land.
However, according to some historians, the roots of Saint Jean are even more ancient, with some dating the baptismal pool in the central nave as far back as the 4th century. What’s certain is that the way the church looks now, including a 20-foot stone reliquary, a cave of relics, a baptismal font decorated with a Greek cross, and a crypt, was the product of the work of Benedictine monks who expanded an existing underground structure during the 12th century by carving the limestone hill by hand.