Crypts are among the oldest Christian religious constructions. Their lack of daylight and the frequent presence of tombs also make them a spooky place in popular culture. But far from being a sordid place, crypts can be real architectural gems, as in the following cases.

Wikimedia Commons/Ilaria napoletano

Church of Sant'Eusebio, Pavia

The Church of Sant'Eusebio was a church in Pavia, of which today only the crypt remains. Built as an Arian cathedral by King Rothari (636-652), it later became an important place of conversion to Catholicism for the Lombards. The crypt of Sant'Eusebio is one of the two proto-Romanesque crypts in Pavia, together with that of S. Giovanni Domnarum. The crypt is divided into five naves by slender columns supporting cross vaults. The capitals of the columns are truncated pyramid-shaped and reproduce various motifs. Together with the cycle of Romanesque frescoes that decorate the vaults, they constitute the most interesting elements of the crypt.

Church of Sant'Eusebio
Wikimedia Commons/Helge Klaus Rieder

St. Matthias Abbey, Trier

St. Matthias Abbey, founded in the 4th century, is a Benedictine monastery with a Romanesque basilica as its abbey church. Since the 12th century, the tomb of Apostle Matthias, the only apostle's tomb on German soil and north of the Alps, has been venerated in the crypt of the basilica. When French army troops entered Germany after the Revolution, they requisitioned the abbey buildings in 1794. The abbey was dissolved in 1802 and it was not until 1922 that monks returned to the abbey. Below the choir, visitors can see the impressive crypt, where numerous sarcophagi (including the two sarcophagi of the first bishops of Trier, Valerius and Eucharius) are kept. The eastern part of the crypt was added around 1500.

St. Matthias Abbey
Wikimedia Commons/Didier Descouens

San Zaccaria, Venice

The church of San Zaccaria was built in the 15th century on the site of a monastery dating from the 9th century, which was destroyed by fire in 1105. At that time it was attached to a Benedictine monastery which the Doge visited every year at Easter, during a ceremony in which he was presented with his headdress, the "Corno Ducale". The monastery was one of the richest and most famous in Venice, rivalling that of San Lorenzo. Witness to the previous constructions, the beautiful 10th and 11th-century crypt is divided into three naves by small columns supporting cross vaults.

San Zaccaria
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St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent

The Ghent Cathedral was built in its present form in the 13th century, but the oldest mention of the church dates back to the 10th century. The choir dates from the 14th century, the massive Gothic tower was built between 1462 and 1538 and the nave dates from the 16th century. The church did not become a cathedral until 1559. Every year the cathedral attracts many tourists for the works of art it houses, including Van Eijck's "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb". The crypt, with its wall paintings, is the oldest part of the church. It is a remnant of the old Romanesque church that preceded the Gothic church.

St Bavo's Cathedral
Wikimedia Commons/Anton Bielousov

Cathedral of Our Lady, Bayeux

A first cathedral complex was built in the 7th century, including a Saint-Étienne church and a Notre-Dame church. Following a fire, Hugues II of Bayeux decided to rebuild the cathedral in the 11th century. The side aisles were modified in the 12th and 13th centuries, including the side chapels and a new choir, and the western arrows and the five-porch facade. Restoration work took place in the 19th century and resulted in a new copper dome. The crypt dates from the eleventh century and its pillars have capitals decorated with acanthus leaves. The decorations, such as the musician angels above the capitals of the pillars, date from the fifteenth century.

Cathedral of Our Lady
Wikimedia Commons/Marco Delnoij

Rolduc Abbey

Rolduc Abbey is a former abbey from the 12th century, which is said to have been founded in 1104 by Pastor Ailbertus van Antoing. In addition to the abbey church, the vast complex includes an abbey building in the Mosan Renaissance style (abbey wing and water tower, 1671), an 18th-century Baroque abbey wing, the monastery farm dating largely from the 18th century and other economic buildings. The crypt of the abbey church is famous for its 12th century carved capitals, which are among the highlights of Mosan art. The Romanesque columns themselves, sometimes spiral-shaped or decorated with zigzag patterns, are something of great beauty.

Rolduc Abbey
Wikimedia Commons/Valdavia

San Antolín Cathedral, Palencia

Palencia Cathedral, dedicated to San Antolín, is the second-largest cathedral in Spain in terms of nave length. The construction of the current building began in the 14th century and lasted until the 16th century. It is a building of mainly Gothic style, although it preserves earlier elements from the Visigothic and Romanesque periods, as well as decorative elements from the Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic styles. The crypt of San Antolín is the only remaining part of the original Visigothic cathedral which was built in the second half of the 7th century, with Romanesque elements added later.

San Antolín Cathedral
Wikimedia Commons/Jebulon

Sainte-Eutrope Basilica, Saintes

To honour the relics of Saint Eutropius of Saintes (3rd or 4th century), Benedictine monks founded a monastery in the 9th century and built a two-storey church. The church acquired its Gothic bell tower later in the 15th century (1478-1496). The Benedictine monastery being abolished in 1789, the building became a parish church. The lower church, or crypt, is the oldest part of the building dating back to 1081. Its dimensions make it one of the largest Romanesque crypts in Europe: its total length is thus 35 metres long with a vault height of 5 metres. The crypt contains the tomb of Saint Eutropius (1st or 3rd century), the evangeliser of Saintes.

Sainte-Eutrope Basilica
Wikimedia Commons/Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is the result of the enlargement under Pope Hadrian I (772-790) of an ancient Christian place of worship attested since the 6th century. It also underwent a major renovation in 1123, making it one of the few examples of 12th-century sacred architecture in Rome. It is known to house the Bocca Della Verità. The 8th-century crypt has a rectangular plan, with a flat ceiling, and a tripartite hall with naves of four bays each with Corinthian columns. A peculiarity of this crypt is the transept, one of the rare cases of reintroduction of this element, typically Constantinian, into Carolingian architecture.

Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Wikimedia Commons/Fabien Chancoin

Saint-Benigne Cathedral, Dijon

Dijon's Saint-Bénigne Cathedral is a Gothic church dating from the 13th century. Originally an abbey church, it only became a cathedral in 1792 following the church of Saint Etienne de Dijon which had first received the seat of the bishopric of Dijon created in 1731. The crypt, founded in the 6th century, is the oldest part of the building, which is thought to be the origin of the building as it housed the tomb of Saint Bénigne. The church was given a rotunda in the 11th century, which was destroyed in 1792, except for the crypt on the lower floor of the rotunda.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral