Conques - Medieval village - Abbey Church
Conques, from a hermit retreat to an abbey
Conques is a tiny medieval village located in southwest France about 32 km northwest of Rodez.
Nestled deep in the mountains of Rouergue, Conques has been a holy site since at least the 7th century.
The monk Dadon indeed chose this remote site, by a holy spring known as Plo, to retreat as a hermit.
Several monks, in quest of spirituality and solitude, joined him and soon formed a small religious community and founded a small monastery.
Long before Dadon, though, our Celtic ancestors, then the Romans, worshiped the spring already known for its special virtues.
Conques, a major pilgrimage site
The monastery expanded through the following centuries, and was rebuilt in the 11th century.
A major stop-over on the road to Santiago de Compostela since its foundation, it was listed as French Historic Site in 1838, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The medieval village indeed boasts a wealth of picturesque half-timbered houses that border narrow steep lanes.
However, the major landmark is the Romanesque Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy.
The church is indeed the custodian of the relics of the village's patron saint, Sainte Foy (Saint Faith).
This is where pilgrims attend the service especially held for them every evening, during which they are blessed, read prayers in their native language and receive credentials for the miles they walked on the Chemin.
Afterwards, a monk invites them to move to the church square, where he gives a talk (in French) on the ornate tympanum.
The celebration ends at 9:30 pm with a free organ concert in the church which is illuminated by candlelight.
The village and its abbey thrived through the centuries, as most inhabitants worked in the 'pilgrim trade', providing food and housing and manufacturing artifacts for the pilgrims.
Tourists and pilgrims walking the Chemin of St. Jacques - Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela today generate most of the little town's revenue.
Sainte-Foy Abbey Church
The church replaced the 10th century basilica; the main body and its cloister were completed by 1107 and turn it into a superb illustration of Romanesque architecture.
Sadly, the Protestants burned most of the building during the Wars of Religion in 1568.
The abbey church, left to slowly fell into disrepair, was eventually restored at the initiative of Prosper Merimée in the late 1800s.
However, the contemporary church's windows are without very controversial!
The local artist Pierre Soulages was indeed commissioned for their creation in 1994.
Apparently, the geometric design of the translucent white glass mimics the 'modulations of varying light' that enters the Church.
The ornate tympanum, on the other hand, is a widely acclaimed architectural feature!
It is indeed considered one of the finest examples of its kind and depicts Christ in his Majesty presiding over the judgement of souls.
Mary and the Apostles stand to His right; Satan and the tortured souls of hell to His left!
Amazingly, some of the sculptures have retained their original colours.
Finally, the Treasure of the simple and austere abbey church contains a splendid gold and jewel-encrusted letter 'A', which according to local legend, was given to the monks by Emperor Charlemagne!
European Center for Medieval Art and Culture
The Center, located at the top of the village, is dedicated to preserving and promoting the artistic and cultural heritage of Conques and surrounding area.
It offers multicultural programs, lectures, art exhibits and music programs.
Heritage classes and 'discovery' days run throughout the year in order to support the work of local artists and artisans and introduce them to the public.
Department of Aveyron
Coordinates: Lat 44.599450 - Long 2.397991
Credits: Photos atelier434 and source Text Melanged Magic by Evelyn Jackson - Edited by and for Travel France Online - Wikimedia Commons: header