Saint Emilion is renowned for producing some of the finest wines in Bordeaux. This small AOC on the Right Bank is home to iconic producers like Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Ausone, and Angelus (and so many more), with existing testaments to its quality dating as far back as the 5th century. But who is this Emilion from which this ancient city takes its name? This legend is so fascinating that it warrants retelling. There are several different versions out there; here is one of them.
Emilion was a house-servant and the employee of a landlord in Brittany, in the northwest of France (now more famous for its chicken, coming from Brest). While working, Emilion took pity on the peasantry working the land who were impoverished and starving. He soon took to smuggling out loaves of bread out of his master’s pantry to distribute to the poor by concealing them in his cloak. His master, no fool himself, soon caught on to Emilion’s activities and confronted him. When asked what he was hiding in his robes, Emilion lied and said it was fire wood. He was then asked to open his cloak…and the bread had miraculously turned into firewood! Allowed to go on his way, when he came to the poor, the firewood had been turned back into bread. This miracle quickly spread among the peasantry and they began to follow and pray to Emilion. This drew unwanted attention from the landlord, so Emilion left on his own accord to become a monk.
His reputation preceded him, however, and soon there were masses of followers petitioning him at the monastery. This drew the ire of the other monks to who sought to punish him and quash any notion that he was capable of performing miracles. Since his task at the monastery was to remove the baked bread from the oven, the other monks hid his wooden paddle from him that was used to take out the bread, all but assuring that it would be destroyed. Not seeing an alternative, Emilion climbed into the oven to save the loaves and found that he was unharmed. This second miracle only increased his reputation and he once again opted to leave to avoid the petitioners and crowds wanting to see another miracle.
He at last found refuge far to the south in one of limestone caves in a place called Ascum Bas. Even here, living the solitary life of a hermit, disciples found him and he became famous in the region. Among many purported miracles at this time, there is one specific one worth mentioning that is attributed to him. If a woman was trying to conceive, she could visit Emilion and, after sitting in a chair in his chambers and praying, she would become pregnant. For centuries after his death, people would still come to this place and pray in effort to conceive.
After his death his followers carried on his legacy and even called the town after him: Saint-Emilion. It is a very special place indeed.