Saint Emilion Sells Off Historic Monument To Cover Debt

Saint Emilion has sold off one of its historical monuments – the 14th century Cordelier’s Cloister – to pay off debts. Saint Emilion and its nearby vineyards were classified by the UN’s cultural organisation, UNESCO, as a world heritage site in 1999 and the sale of the Cordelier’s Cloister has angered residents of the city.

One prominent landowner accused the Mayor of selling off the family jewels, but the town council defended the controversial move saying it was a way of raising much-needed cash for the upkeep of historic sites.

The Mayor, Bernard Lauret, who battles with the costs involved in maintaining the medieval monuments that enrich Saint Emilion, said:

“The commune of Saint Emilion, despite its world reputation, is sparsely populated and must take on the large expense of receiving nearly a million visitors a year and maintaining its major historical heritage”

Saint Emilion previously tried to sell Chateau Badette but the sale is caught up in a dispute currently being heard in the European Court of Justice (to read more see my blog The Curious Case of Chateau Badette).

According to the regional accounting office, Saint Emilion has a debt load four times greater than the average French town of the same size despite tax revenues which are 73% higher. Cordelier’s Cloister, which includes a reception hall, cellars, offices, cloister and garden, were sold for 750,000 euros. It’s claimed that the town spent 570,000 euros on its restoration.

Doubtless if more sales are planned there will be more controversy but luckily the new owner of the Cloisters has been in residence there for some time as a tenant.

The new owner, Jean-Paul Cales, vice-president of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and owner of the sparkling wine company (producing Crémant de Bordeaux) which is housed in the Cloisters, says he has no intention of closing the site to the public:

“It would be economically aberrant for me to close the cloister to the public – people come in to see it and stop to buy.”

The Cloisters origins date back to 1343 when Pope Clement V granted the Franciscan order the current location. The Cordeliers were originally a branch of the order of Franciscan monks who wore as part of their dress a girdle of knotted cords.

In 1383 King Richard II of England ordered the building of the beautiful Romanesque architecture alongside the old chapel and the Gothic church. Under these soaring arches, arcades and shaded walks, in the secrecy and silence of tunnels 20 meters deep lies the cellar of the Les Cordeliers.

In the 2 – 3 km of underground galleries there are no less than half a million bottles stored in ideal conditions at a constant temperature of 12 °C and humidity as high as 80%. The sparkling wines produced are both white and rosé and are produced by the method traditionelle. Les Cordeliers hold both guided tours of the Cloisters and wine tastings – details can be found here.

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