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Baptistry of St. John considered oldest Christian building in France

By Catholic Online
April 6th, 2011
Catholic Online (

The Baptistère Saint-Jean or the Baptistery of St. John in Poitiers is believed to be the oldest Christian building in France. It's located next to the cathedral and is definitely worth seeing. Originally constructed in the 4th century, the round baptistery was modified in the 6th and 7th centuries and decorated with frescoes a few centuries later.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Baptism was administered in the River Clain, which runs about 100 meters from the baptistery In the earliest years of Christianity in Poitiers. Around 360, a baptistery was constructed by the bishop, St. Hilary in what would soon become the ecclesiastical center of the city.

The construction of free-standing baptisteries was common in this period, before baptisteries or fonts were included inside churches.

Over the centuries, many changes were made to the original structure. A round apse and transept with square arms were added in the 6th or 7th century. The arms of the transept were then transformed into the two small semi-circular apses, seen today around 1000 AD. At the same time, the narthex was modified to its present polygonal form.

A baptismal tank was added in the 6th century but was filled in the 8th century. The walls were decorated with frescoes in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, remains of which can still be seen. Among the earlier paintings is a large depiction of the Emperor Constantine on horseback on the east wall. Frescoes depicting the life of St. John the Baptist were added in the 13th century.

The baptistery was abandoned in 1791 during the revolution, then confiscated from the Church and sold to a private citizen who used it as a warehouse. It was saved from demolition by a public subscription, which allowed it to be repurchased in 1834.

In addition to its interesting Early Christian architecture, the Baptistère Saint-Jean features the ancient octagonal tank, 11th, 12th, and 13th-century murals, including "Christ in Majesty," "the Virgin Mary," saints, and "Constantine", and an impressive collection of Merovingian sarcophagi.

Outside, don't miss the comical faces on the corbels and along the roofline of the orangey-pink exterior.

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