Tomb of St. Peter on the Vatican Hill (October 2, 2003)
Site of Early Christian Basilica Discovered in Arles (November 17, 2003)
Update on the Arles Excavation (November 20, 2003)
If You Dig, You Will Find It [early basilica excavation in Marseilles] (January 21, 2004)
Gallo-Roman Mosaics Discovered in Besançon (April 19, 2004)
Amphitheater Discovered in Aix-en-Provence (May 27, 2004)
Roman Venus Discovered in Cologne (October 7, 2004)
Excavating the Roman Suburbs (October 15, 2004)
Roman Necropolis Discovered in Modena (December 4, 2004)
Charles IX's Wall under the Orangerie (February 3, 2005)
10th-Century Church in Angers Rediscovered (January 24, 2006)
Early Christian Ruins in Nice (February 6, 2006)
François Erlenbach is in seventh heaven. The new Regional Director of Cultural Affairs for the Limousin never gets tired of admiring the ruins of an early Christian baptistry discovered during the work on the square in front of the majestic cathedral of Saint-Etienne. Conducted under the leadership of the city, of the regional office of cultural affairs, and of Jean-Pierre Loustaud, director of archeology for the city, archeological investigations, undertaken in November and December 2004 by the investigations company Hadès, in Labège (Haute-Garonne), made possible the discovery of the baptistry (dating probably from the 5th century), partially situated under the razed walls of the ancient church of Saint-Jean, built in the 13th century and destroyed in the Revolution.The existence of the baptistry was not even known. From what they have identified in the shards, the interior was decorated with marble and green porphyry, with murals and brick columns covered in stucco. Each side room was apparently decorated by wealthy noble families of Limoges. There is not enough left for reconstruction -- the building was taken apart brick by brick over the centuries -- but the archeologists will be able to put together a good idea of what it was like. This is in the town of not only a magnificent cathedral but also the Abbey of Saint-Martial, one of the most powerful monasteries in Europe in the Middle Ages and the center of an early polyphonic school, known for its vast library and a tradition of liturgical drama. In one of the great tragedies of architectural and music history, the only trace of the abbey church is a few capitals now in the local museum. The crypt underneath the abbey church was excavated in the 1960s.
The first sequence of digs, carried out last August and September, revealed a vast edifice built on a hexagonal plan, extended on each side by small quadrangular pieces. At the center they uncovered a circular basin, partially preserved, about 20 meters [65.6 feet] in diameter. Full-immersion baptisms were celebrated there in the early centuries of Christianity up through the Carolingian era. "This baptistry was of an unusually large size. It was one of the largest in France, covering an area of 280 square meters [3013.9 square feet]. The hexagonal plan used here seems equally rare among episcopal baptistries," rejoices Julien Denis, archeologist of the Hadès group. Additional excavations, conducted from January 23 to February 10 under the cathedral's foundation, led to the discovery of the sixth and final peripheral room of the building. A supplementary room, added to the main building, has also been identified.