The Abbey is part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela World Heritage
Situated in the midst of the dense Entre-Deux-Mers forest just southeast of Bordeaux, the remains of the Notre-Dame de La Sauve-Majeure beautifully captures the spirit of a place that was once an important stop for pilgrims on the way to or from Santiago de Compostela further south. Founded in 1079 by a Benedictine abbot, the abbey’s monastic functions and its ideal location on the pilgrims’ route placed it at the head of some 70 priories stretching all the way from England to Aragon in Spain. The place takes its name from the Latin “silva major”, “great forest”.
Entre-Deux-Mers literally translates as “between two seas”, referring to the land between the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers. Both rivers are influenced by the ebb and flow of the tides of the Atlantic in these parts. Here as well as in other regions of France, including nearby Saint-Emilion, vines first planted by the Romans 2000 years ago were typically grown by monks in the middle ages. In the case of the Abbey of La Sauve-Majeure, a large plot a land was given to them by Duke William VIII of Aquitaine. The thick forest was cleared to make way for vines, and the wine, produced for religious purposes or as part of their general livelihood, became over time an important commodity on the bustling pilgrimage and trade routes.
La Sauve along with the rest of France witnessed difficult times during the Hundred Years’ War with England (1337 to 1453). The priory was revitalized in the 17th century before the French Revolution a century later effectively put an end to its life as a religious place. The buildings were subsequently used as a stone quarry, leaving it in a ruinous state. La Sauve was registered as a historic monument in 1840, acquired by the State in 1960 and in 1998, the Abbey was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as one of a series of sites on the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the remains of La Sauve-Majeaure are considered masterpieces of Romanesque art. Especially noteworthy are the many decorative capitals.
The Wines of Entre-Deux-Mers
A visit to the Bordeaux region would not be complete without tasting some of its wines. Entre-Deux-Mers ranks among the most well-known wine producing areas of Bordeaux, and it still is the largest with some 250 producers. Only white wines produced here are labelled under the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, while the reds are sold as a generic Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur (AOC). Entre-Deux-Mers white wines are made mostly from the Sauvignon Blanc and the Sémillion grape varieties, which make for fruity yet deliciously fresh and rather elegant wines.
The “Maison des Vins de Entre2Mers” is situated right at the entrance to the La Sauve-Majeure Abbey premises, in other words; a perfect place to stop before or after a stroll among the evocative ruins of the old priory.
This article was first published in September 2018.
Text and photos by Asgeir Pedersen, Spots France