church of Saint-Benigne de Dijon retains
in its crypt one of the oldest Christian sanctuaries still to be seen in France.
The rebuilding by William of Volpiano began
on 14 February 1001 and his church was consecrated fifteen years later. The
most outstanding parts of his building was the great rotunda to the east of
the apse. It was destroyed by the Revolution and much of the rubble was used
to fill in the lowest storey, which was the crypt. In 1843 this crypt was rediscovered
and reinstated. Fortunately the two upper storeys had been described and engraved
in 1739 by the historian of Burgundy, Dom Plancher. The building can be reconstructed
in the imagination.
The crypt preserves its original lay-out
-an inner circle ringed round by an arcade of eight columns and surrounded by
another ring of sixteen columns, with a circular ambulatory outside this. To
the east the ambulatory opens into a small rectangular chapel in which the relics
of Saint-Benigne, the apostle of Burgundy, were venerated. The ambulatories
were repeated at ground-floor and first-floor levels, but the inner ring formed
an open well which rose through all three storeys into the cupola from which
the building was largely lit. The present vaulting of the centre of the crypt
is therefore not original.
Saint-Benigne de Dijon has been rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1272 and has
nothing today to teach us of the architecture of the eleventh century.