СТРАНИЦА В РАЗРАБОТКЕ!!!!!
во французском департаменте Аверон с населением ок. 300 жителей. В Средние века — город в графстве Руэрг, живописно расположенный на склоне высокого холма на паломническом пути св. Иакова. Входит в Ассоциацию самых красивых деревень Франции.
One of the major monuments of architectural and cultural heritage that line the route to Santiago de Compostela, Conques abbey-church prides itself on sheltering under its vaults, a unique treasure of Romanesque sculpture and artefacts. Among these are the tympanum of the Last Judgment and figurative capitals, all magnified by Pierre Soulages’ stained glass windows. The gilded or plated reliquaries of the Treasure, embellished with ancient enamels, cameos, intaglios and precious stones are exquisite examples of medieval craftsmanship. The precious treasure, assembled and preserved through the ages, nestles around the monastery within an environment of great beauty that is today recognized in the selective list of The most Beautiful Villages of France (Les plus beaux villages de France).
During the Touristic Season (May to September), CAR traffic is subject to regulation in the village. The access through the village is then forbidden, except for delivery, unloading and uploading of luggage (shelters/hotels/B&B) or to bring a disable person close to the village centre.
- Please specify these situations to the Parking employees.
- CAREFULL: During the High Season, a ONE-WAY traffic regulation is in effect in the village.
- During the high season (may-septembre), flat fee applies for parking (sticker at 4€, for all the season, paid only once).
- Parking for CAR and MOTORCYCLE, in the village centre, is regulated all year round and forbidden on the road side of the D42 (refer to road signs). Use the appropriate parking sites.
BUS LINE CONQUES-RODEZ
- Société Tourisme Aveyron Cars — Tel: 05 65 77 10 55
- Bus station in Rodez — Tel: 05 65 68 11 13
Regular Bus line Le Puy-en-Velay — Conques
- Bus Line (19 seatting) daily on the Compostela Routefrom April 15 to October 15
Stop and departure point in Conques: Parking de la Salesse (Townhall area)
- Booking ahead advised
- Departure Le Puy-en-Velay : 07:50 — Arrival in Conques 12:05
- Departure Conques : 13:00 — Arrival in Le Puy-en-Velay 17:15
Contact: Compostel’Bus — 04 71 02 43 23 — www.compostelbus.com
- Saint-Christophe-Vallon (12) — Line Paris-Rodez, 23 km from Conques — Tel: 05 65 72 71 55
- Shuttle service with the company Transports Lample on booking on certain train hours (see the transport chart).
- Note for pilgrims: This station is not on the GR65.
- Viviez-Decazeville (12) — Line Paris-Rodez, 27 km from Conques — Tel: 05 65 43 12 35
- Daily connection with Paris and Toulouse lines. Night train ticket must be booked ahead of time.
- Note for pilgrim: This station is 3km off the GR65 at Decazeville (boulevard Laromiguière level). Walking from Decazeville to Viviez station, do not use the High Speed Road (pedestrians forbidden). Use the old road going towards Viviez.
- Transports from Conques with taxis.
- Rodez (12) — regular lines to Paris, Toulouse, station at 38 km from Conques, train station located near the Coach station — Tel: 05 65 77 33 30 / 36 35 / 0 892 35 35 35
- Transport from Conques: Regular bus line (week days, school days) or taxi.
- Night train ticket must be booked ahead
- Figeac (46) — regular lines to Paris, Cahors and Toulouse
- Transport to this station : taxi or transports for pilgrim on the GR65 (Figeac axis)
- This airport is located at 35 km from Conques and 8km from Rodez
- Direct flights from Paris-Orly, Ajaccio, London-Stansted, Dublin and Brussels-Charleroi
- Possibilities of transport by taxi or car rentals
- No shuttle services to/from Rodez or Conques
Air lines companies
- Air France — Tel. : 05 65 42 20 30 — Site : www.airfrance.fr
- Ryanair — Site : www.ryanair.com
Regular flights :
- Rodez-London Stansted (Ryanair)
- Rodez-Dublin (Ryanair)
- Rodez-Brussels/Charleroi (Belgium) from March (Ryanair)
International connecting flights through Paris, London, Dublin and Brussels airports.
TOULOUSE-BLAGNAC Airport located at 170 km from Conques. International connecting flights.
- Site : www.toulouse.aeroport.fr
- Transport on request on given days from different municipalities’ departure points, towards St-Cyprien, Rodez, St-Christophe, Nuces, Decazeville.Transports reserved to residents.
- Transport from/to Conques from/to St-Christophe train station (train line Rodez to Paris). On booking with the company Transports Lample
- Pilgrims/hikers transports and luggage transports on the route to Compostela. Booking required 24h prior to departure
- Regular Bus line Le Puy-Conques (see below)
- Schedule of bus route on the line Grand-Vabre — Conques — Marcillac — Rodez
Careful: No bus service between Conques and Rodez on school holidays, civic holidays and week-end. Departure/arrival only from/to Marcillac (except civic holidays and week-ends)
ORIGINS OF THE ABBEY
A hermit who came to settle here was the first inhabitant of what was to become the village of Conques. A few existing texts actually mention a certain Datus (Dadon in French), who retired to this wild area to dedicate his life to contemplation, at the end of the 8th century. Datus, abbreviation fromDeodatus in Latin (Déodat or Dieudonné in French), is a name which is certainly related to his religious vocation: «one who gave his life to God». It is even possible to locate his hermitage. Without a doubt, the actual Plô fountain running at the foot of the church, below its front square, was a vital element in the anchorite’s choice. However, right after he settled here and according to a royal charter from 819, «a man full of devotion, named Medraldus, came to retire in the same place and lived with Dadon. Their famous holiness spread to the neighbouring lands. Consequently, many others, who found the contemplative life appealing, decided to join them. Little by little, the pious community grew in number and built a church dedicated to Saint Savour, in the same location». Dadon, probably considering his mission accomplished and faithful to his ideal of solitude, chose the «desert» for the second time and founded another hermitage in Grand-Vabre, a few kilometres downstream of Conques, in the Dourdou Valley. Before he retired, he left the direction of the monastery, which had already adopted the rule of Saint Benedict, to his first disciple Medraldus.
This was the time when the Carolingian sovereigns chose to favour and shower with benefits the monasteries within their empire, for political as much as religious reasons. The expansion of the abbey of Conques would have been hindered and even definitively compromised without such favour, because the poverty of the site meant that it was unable to support a large community of monks. Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, under Charlemagne’s reign, would have paid many visits to Medraldus and placed the monastery under his powerful influence, officially naming it «Conques». In 819, he donated no less than ten pieces of lands in its favour. Twenty years later, Pepin the 2nd, king of Aquitaine, gifted Figeac to Conques, where many monks took residence. Gold and silver were added to this donation, as well as precious clothes, intaglios and antique cameos. They are the origins of Conques’ Treasure. These generous imperial and royal gifts, taken over later by the provincial patrician families, had a deep influence in the region. But the collective memory would only remember the name of Charlemagne, the benefactor par excellence, forgetting his other family members. Furthermore, of course, centuries later he would get his own spot on the Tympanum of the Last Judgement of the Romanesque abbey-church, among the procession of the elected. However, the favours given by an emperor, being Charlemagne or not, were not comparable to the ones soon to be given, in the spiritual dimension, by a little saintly girl forever associated with Conques.
The curious destiny of Conques was seemingly forever sealed during the Roman empire of Diocletian, at the time of the big persecutions, in the twilight of the 4th century. Faraway from here, a young girl living in Agen named Foy (Fides in Latin, Faith in English), who was converted to Christianity by Caprais, the town bishop, refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and, consequently, endured martyrdom at the young age of twelve.
THE WORSHIP OF SAINT FOY
During the 9th century, at a time when the importance of relics grew dramatically and when the presence of a holy body lead to a huge spiritual impact for an abbey holding them, Conques was oddly left out. This was the time when Conques’ monks, after fruitless attempts to obtain relics, turned their attention to the holy relics of Saint Foy from Agen, which were well revered in Aquitaine. Their «abduction», called a «furtive transfer», took place around 866.
The arrival of Saint Foy’s relics in their new home, where they would later on perform miracles for the blinds and the prisoners in particular, drew crowds of pilgrims from all over France coming to ask for special benefits. For the abbey, this situation meant a new birth. Construction works would then go on for three centuries without interruption, providing prosperity to the area. During the 9th and 10th centuries, the expansion permitted the emergence of the first pieces of art, including the famous Saint Foy statue-reliquary, prayed to worshipers, and set in a three naves church preceded by a bell porch.
At the same time, the tomb of the apostle James in Compostela, became a pilgrimage site, surpassing the other great pilgrimages of the Christian world. The well-known miracles of Saint Foy were strong enough to bring Conques into the highlights and for it to be chosen as a major town-relay, set on one of the four main Compostela French trails, the one starting from Le-Puy-en-Velay. After the difficult and dreadful crossing of the Aubrac «desert», pilgrims travelling alone or in groups would reach the more welcoming landscapes of the Lot River, at Espalion. From Estaing, going on through Golinhac village, where a stone cross carries a pilgrim’s image holding his walking-stick (bourdon in French), they would pass Espeyrac, Sénergues and Saint-Marcel, to finally reach Conques, after a long journey. Departing from Conques, they could choose two itineraries to reach Quercy and the abbey of Moissac. The shortest one crossed the Dourdou River by the Pilgrims’ bridge (pont romain in French, from romius, a pilgrim in Occitan), to reach Aubin further on. From Conques, the alternative route would go under the gates of La Vinzelle, a path leading towards Grand-Vabre and Figeac, towards the North-West boundaries. Such pilgrimage, with its loads of donations and offerings alike, brought power and prosperity to Saint-Foy Abbey and, consequently, was the ideal condition for its artistic influence.
Up to then, the devotion to Saint Foy was limited to Rouergue and the neighbouring regions, but spread rapidly all over the Christian world, supported by the pilgrims’ worship and boosted by a major piece of literature from the early 11th century, theBook of the Miracles of Saint Foy, written by Bernard, a master in Angers Cathedral School. Conques monastery was by then holding numerous lands and priories, within a radius of twenty kilometres, and attracted an important urban population which settled close by. Conques kept on spreading his influence and acquired possessions in Rouergue and all over the Western Christian world, from Saint-Foy in Cavagnolo, in Piemont, Horsham in England, Selestat or even Bamberg in the German world and as far as Catalogna and Navarra. The Abbey Cartulary, a manuscript from the 12thcentury listing donations, is a witness to the creation of a true monastic empire for three centuries, an empire powerful enough to be kept out of the influence of Cluny that overlooked most of the great Benedictine abbeys, such as Saint-Geraud in Aurillac or Saint-Pierre in Moissac. More still, Conques was a rival of Cluny during the Spanish Reconquista against the Muslims, founding churches or designating bishops for the new dioceses of Aragon and Navarra.
THE MONASTIC BOROUGH
The great era for Conques, from the mid 11th century until the first third of the 12th, relates to the period of construction of the abbey-church. Saint-Foy monastery reached its peak under the impulse of Abbot Begon III (1087-1107). While pursuing the work in the new church, started by his predecessors Odolric (before 1031-1065) and Etienne II (1065-1087), Begon also started the reconstruction of the monastic buildings and the cloister, due to the increasing number of monks. Conques was changing to become a huge construction site. He commanded «the insertion of gold into many relics» and the making of some of the most beautiful pieces of the Treasure, in the goldsmith and enamel workshops during his office as abbot.
At the same time, a monastic school with its library and scriptorium was proved to have existed.
While the ecclesiastic community expanded, a lay community composed of merchants and tradesmen gathered around it, freeing themselves progressively from the religious authority. For example, a 1288-1289 charter by Abbot Raymond Dufour confirmed the granting of economic privileges to the lay community, recognising by that means the existence in Conques of an universitas, with trustees at its head. In this 13th century, each new clerical dignitary taking office, as was the case for Abbot Hugues de Panat in 1250, had to consent to give away part of his power, with the obligation to recognise that he couldn’t not collect anymore the «tallage, tithe or injury to feelings» from the population. Reaching further back in time, the early presence of four conciliation board members in Conques, already named «consuls» (cosols in Occitan), is attested in a document dating from the first ten years of the same century. A consulate was born and its influence in the economy in particular would rise in the future. Already, at the dawn of the year Thousand, the Book of Miracles of Saint Foy, revealed the life of an «important city resting on the hill above the monastery».
In fact, a true city developed on the sunny slopes dominating the abbey, protected by surrounding walls of ramparts, pierced by fortified gates and reinforced with towers on their flanks. A network of narrow streets, a few of them cobbled, led to the sanctuary and different dwelling areas. Despite the steep gradient, many fountains provided water to the residents and a medieval market hall made up the heart of the economic trade.
In the suburban district, a single borough developed with a concentration of workshops (mills and tanneries on the Ouche and Dourdou embankments) and craftsmen shops such as cloth makers, tailors and shoemakers, in particular.
During its heyday, in the 12th century, the exact number of inhabitants is uncertain. However, in 1341, Conques still counted 730 hearths (which meant an extended household, according to historian demographers), amounting to about 3000 inhabitants, ranking Conques in the 7th position among the cities of the Rouergue. It was not a simple village, but a truly urban area, directed by four consuls yearly elected by the residents. At the end of medieval times, the regional fairs seemed to function as a substitute for the declining pilgrimage contributions. During the 15th century, King Charles VII authorised, for example, the annual fairs and weekly markets.
The monastery secularisation in 1537 didn’t put a radical halt to the city prosperity. On the contrary, the new community of canons under the Rules of Saint Augustine had substantial means and was part of an elitist clientele for the local merchants and tradesmen. Many of these canons fled the austerity of the monastery to live in luxurious private residences. But times of disaster and misery would soon strike. The blaze started by the Huguenots in 1568, which damaged part of the church and the cloister, was followed by successive episodes of epidemics and famines. The plague of 1628 was particularly deadly. The residents, in panic, took refuge in thesecados (little buildings where chestnuts were dried, deep in the woods). These episodes were followed by disastrous harvests, leading to a new wave of mortality, such as during the years 1693-1694, as was noted in the parish registry. The canons had to rescue the hungry population with a free distribution of beans.
Conques had a hard time rising back from these calamities. In the mid-18th century, the population added up to less than a thousand. On the eve of the 1789 Revolution, only six hundred and thirty souls were accounted for. However, the dark picture shouldn’t be exagerated. During the last two centuries of the Ancien Régime, many buildings were erected. Besides the canons and the fraternal community of priests who had settled in the parish of Saint-Thomas of Canterbury church, next to the abbey, there also coexisted many men of law, rich merchants and prosperous tradesmen. One example is the carpenter named Guillaume Chirac, related to Pierre Chirac born in Conques in 1657 and who became, later on, after a notorious career, King Louis XV’s first physician. Yet, the peasants and the grape growers constituted, with the beggars, the majority of Conques population. In 1771, the local priest answered a survey ordered by His Lordship Champion de Cicé which related to the diocese living conditions, with the following words: «There is no trade because of lack of suitable roads… The two third of the families spend most of their days without any bread… There are about eighty-four disabled persons, counting many children and one hundred beggars in the parish». The priest finished this sad picture by saying: «Today, suffering from hunger, living from chestnuts, selling ones lands and working for someone else, this is how we live, here stands the situation!»
This situation worsened more during the Revolution years. The decree from the National Constituent Assembly suppressing the religious orders in France, hit the city hard, as it caused the closing of the monastery and the dispersion of the canons. The last abbot at the head of the Chapter, François-René d’Adhémar de Panat, former Almoner of the Princesses Henriette and Adelaïde, daughters of Louis XV, retired to Rodez. The loss was irreparable. The canons were in charge of the abbey maintenance, but were also managing the hospital of Saint-Foy, which welcomed the destitute. The municipality, newly elected, now responsible for all these expenses, was overwhelmed and could not face the burden, for it had insufficient financial means.
The downfall sped up with the 19th century and Conques fell to the simple rank of a village, yet still with the responsibilities of the principal town of the area, insuring a minimum of economic vitality.
Under the July Monarchy, an exceptional event occurred: the visit in 1836 of the writer Prosper Mérimée, Inspector in charge for the Historical Monuments. He brought to the attention of the governmental authorities the state of dilapidation, in which stood the Romanesque abbey-church. This journey of inspection, carried out during a tour of the Auvergne, is the origin of the rediscovery, the study and the conservation of the medieval heritage. From now on, this major monument of western architecture, classified among the Historical Monuments, would benefit from a particular attention and public grants, for its restoration. To the global awakening of the successive political governments, were added the ones from local religious authorities, amongst whom, standing in the first row, was the emblematic figure of Cardinal Bourret, the diocese bishop, who favoured the coming in 1873 of a new clerical community. It belonged to the order of the Norbertians (Premontres), who were charged with reviving the spirituality of the place while resuming the traditional pilgrimage to Saint Foy.
Средневековых паломников в Конк привлекала святыня св. Фе, мощи которой, по легенде, монахи украли из Ажена. Церковь аббатства, где почивают эти мощи, выстроена в XI—XII вв. в романском стиле и представляет собой образец монастырской архитектуры того времени.
В 1424 г. она была закрыта, городок захирел и строительство в нём почти прекратилось. В XIX веке этот уголок Средневековья заново открыл для ценителей истории Проспер Мериме.
The St. Foy abbey-church in Conques was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, in what is now Spain. The main draw for medieval pilgrims at Conques were the remains of St. Foy, a martyred young woman from the fourth century.
The original monastery building at Conques was an eighth-century oratory built by monks fleeing the Saracens in Spain. The original chapel was destroyed in the eleventh century in order to facilitate the creation of a much larger church  as the arrival of the relics of St. Foy caused the pilgrimage route to shift from Agen to Conques. The second phase of construction, which was completed by the end of the eleventh-century, included the building of the five radiating chapels, the ambulatory with a lower roof, the choir without the gallery and the nave without the galleries. The third phase of construction, which was completed early in the twelfth-century, was inspired by the churches of Toulouse and Santiago Compostela. Like most pilgrimage churches Conques is a basilica plan that has been modified into a cruciform plan. Galleries were added over the aisle and the roof was raised over the transept and choir to allow people to circulate at the gallery level. The western aisle was also added to allow for increased pilgrim traffic. The exterior length of the church is 59 meters. The interior length is 56 meters. the width of each transept is 4 meters. The height of the crossing tower is 26.40 meters tall.
The St. Foy abbey-church was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998, as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. Its Romanesque architecture, albeit somewhat updated in places, is displayed in periodic self-guided tour opportunities, especially of the upper level, some of which occur at night with live music and appropriately-adjusted light levels.
Conques is a village which has really managed to preserve its genuine identity. Spread along the hillside the urban area surrounds the Abbey in a wide semicircle. The original medieval layout still remains, apart from the east-to-west departmental road built at the end of the 19th century through the town.
Since its origin, or soon afterwards, Conques became an enclosed town, probably one of the first in the Rouergue region. The construction of the ramparts dates from the Romanesque period, indicated by the architecture of the three remaining arches in the surrounding walls. The Porte de Fer (iron gate), a simple postern, has a slanted lintel identical to the one on the southern porch of the Abbey, while the two others, thePorte du Barry down the Rue Charlemagne and the Porte de la Vinzelle, are both barrel vaulted ending with a semicircular arch surmounted by a discharging one. The Porte du Barry shows all the characteristics of an 11th century construction, with its bulky imposts supporting the red sandstone arch bases.
Later on, the surrounding walls were remodelled and often reinforced so as to face the menacing mercenaries during the Hundred Years War. The original layout was largely retained, a rectangle of almost 250m x 150m, orientated North-West/South-East. The remaining ramparts are still visible in the upper part of the town, close to the Centre Européen, and also in the area of the cemetery and the cloister, overlooking the Ouche ravine. The ramparts form part of the sustaining walls of the abbey buildings, which explains the massive schist stones and the buttresses which are not found elsewhere. Only a few towers still stand roughly intact, including the one defending the Porte de la Vinzelle to the North-West and the cemetery turret, which has a corbelled structure.
THE BREAD-OVENS AND PUBLIC FOUNTAINS
As a precaution against fire, the bread-ovens were placed outside the ramparts. Two of them are still standing, having been rebuilt in modern times, one in front of the former Porte de Fumouze, the other in the former moat lining the western wall.
Conques is also privileged to have preserved its fountains from the Romanesque era, all built according to the same layout. The spring water caught by a stone conduit flows into a subterranean tank, stone built and barrel vaulted, and reaches the outside, at street level, through a semi-circular opening. During the 12th century the Guide des pèlerins de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle indicated the Plô fountain beside the church square in these words: «In front of the doors of the basilica runs an excellent source, with virtues more wonderful than people could say». The tank is situated beneath the church square. The Fumouze fountain, welcoming pilgrims after their long journey, still has the original coping on which to rest buckets. Its well constructed arch, made of yellow limestone, appears to be contemporary with the ones from the Romanesque abbey-church and cloisters. Lastly, theBarry fountain is located outside the town, down the Rue Charlemagne which connects the town to the lower suburbs where the artisans had their workshops (mills, tannery, etc…).
In this lower area, two medieval monuments catch one’s attention: the Saint Roch Chapel (15th century), perched on a rocky spur as a reminder of the location of Conques’ original fort, said to have been from the 11thcentury, and the Pont Romain (named as such for it was used by the pilgrims, or romius in Occitan) enabling them to cross the Dourdou river.
Nothing remains of the houses of the Romanesque period. The village’s oldest dwellings only date from the end of the Middle Age. The adaptation to the sloping terrain and the common use of local materials give a unified identity to the houses in Conques, whatever their period of construction. Laid out on the hillside on different levels, their principal facades face south and they have two entrances, one at ground level opening on to the lower street, and the second on the upper level opening on to a garden or the upper street. According to a local saying: «In Conques one gets in through the attic and out through the cellar». Cellars are present everywhere in this former vineyard region, sometimes located next to a workshop. Each one had to be dug out of the rock and, to prevent any mass of rock fall, a load-bearing arch was often built against the back wall.
In Conques the schist rock is master. Extracted on the spot and easy to shape, it provides the building material and also the roof covering, or lauze, and the street cobbles. The high perched roofs with glints of silver, pierced here and there by dormers or even pinnacles, play a great role in the charm of the village. In the doors and window frames, the schist rock is replaced by the pink or grey cut sandstone, and occasionally by granite. Finally, the beautiful Rousset, the yellow limestone used in the abbey-church, can be found here and there in buildings, sometimes in columns or even in sculpted fragments originally from the Romanesque monastic buildings. The plundering of the construction materials by the residents reached its peak during the 19th century, after the demolition of the cloisters.
The half-timbered houses are another unique feature built according to a 15th century technique used until at least the dawn of the 19th century. Between the slanted or X-shaped sections of timber are chunks of schist rocks. The most beautiful facades have two corbelled storeys, each resting on beams with carved ends. Whoever views Conques from the Bancarel site will appreciate the consistent uniformity of all these old houses and the massiveness of the abbey-church dominating them.
STAGES OF CONSTRUCTION
The great expansion following the fears of the first Millenium was the motor behind the major building projects. The present Romanesque church construction site started under the guidance of Abbot Odolric (1031-1065), on the actual setting of a 10thcentury basilica. The first campaigns of work concerned the lower parts of the apse and the minor apses, using the special red sandstone from Combret quarry, in the Dourdou valley. This material, probably considered too friable, was not used again in the new project led by Abbot Etienne II (1065-1087), who continued the work towards the west side. The «rousset«, a beautiful bright yellow limestone extracted from the Lunel plateau, was then generally preferred. Its warm key tones balanced the local gray schist, used in the masonry as filling material wherever a cut stone was not necessary. The great Abbot Bégon III, head of the abbey for twenty years (1087-1107), led an intense period of construction, including the church tribunes and the cloister. The role of his follower, Abbot Boniface (1087-c.1125), is uncertain. No document specifically indicates it. The vaulting of the church and the construction of the western facade were probably achieved under his governance.
The Romanesque cupola of the lantern tower, built too quickly above the crossing, collapsed at an unknown date. The consolidation works, carried out in the 1980s by the Historical Monuments architects, allowed better understanding of the different stages of construction, the changes and problems. The main weaknesses came from the conical vaults principally meant to pass from a square to a circular plan. The cupola was rebuilt during the second half of the 15th century, with a deliberate choice of Gothic vaulting. A century later, in 1568, the abbey-church almost collapsed after a blaze set by the Protestants. The big choir columns, about to collapse after the intense fire, were held in place by iron braces and contained in a sustaining wall of masonry. During this attack, the front towers knocked off, as was the central bell tower. It has been rebuilt since, with an extra level and crowned with a framed spire, to give its present look.
Starting in 1837, restoring the church became possible, after the involvement of Prosper Mérimée. At that time, he was Inspector for the Historical Monuments. The church was then in a pitiful condition, largely abandoned since the Revolution years. His long and detailed memoir, addressed to the Ministry, allowed him to obtain the classification of an edifice and a necessary grant.
Etienne Boissonnade, the Arts Departments architect, became responsible for the restoration works, starting with the most urgent. In 1874, the Arts Departments ordered a complete restoration project by the architect Jean-Camille Formigé. The masterpiece to be realized was considerable: the reconstruction of the choir colonnade and vaults, etc. Later on, in 1881, the elevation of the front towers was started, closely followed by their covering with the present heavy pyramidal stone roofs.
PLAN AND STRUCTURE
The density of the crowds and their circulation determined how the abbey was constructed. The side-aisles boarding the nave were meant to direct the pilgrims towards the ambulatory. Its half-circled structure surrounds the choir, where the Majesty of Saint Foy and other reliquaries were exhibited to the people. The quite important widths of the nave and transept were necessary in order to shelter hundreds of worshipers, allowing them to observe the priest facing the master altar during the office. This altar was located under the cupola, at the crossing of the two main perpendicular lines. Additionally, in case of exceptional attendance, people might have used the vast tribunes pierced by twin archways. To the East, the seven chapels, opened into the ambulatory and the crossing would multiply the amount of secondary altars, allowing simultaneous celebration of mass by the priests.
In its main aspects, this cross plan with radiating chapels falls into the category of churches named «pilgrimage churches», such as the Saint-Sernin basilica in Toulouse. Among them, Saint-Foy church nevertheless retains its character. For the most part, its unique characteristics are the result of natural elements, which the master planners had to deal with. The location chosen by the hermit was ideal for meditation, but of a lesser advantage for the future raising of an abbey and a church of such importance. Sustaining walls had to be built to the north, in order to prevent landslides, and to the south, to hold the earth platform for the present cloister. As a consequence, as observed nowadays from Place Chirac, the church seems buried into a huge ditch when, from the opposite side, its massive structure dominates the cloister, itself perched above the ravine. The available area for the construction was then minimal. Moreover, the Plô fountain location and its underground reservoir, right under the church square, prevented any western extension of the building.
These various elements dictated by the topography explain the extremely compact church plan. Here, the apse has a lesser depth and is flanked by three chapels, instead of five according to the standard plan. The nave is quite short (20.70m) compared with the transept (35m). In order to compensate for the reduced surface, the building was most developed in its height. Here stands its originality. Saint-Sernin in Toulouse is double Saint-Foy in its total length, but has a slightly lower central vault.
The same ratio can be seen outside, on the high facade, which has the austerity of a fortress, partly softened by polychromatic stone rosettes. From the sides, nothing alters the vertical lines of the buttresses as they rise towards the roof. Going around the building, the apse suddenly appears with its magnificent pyramidal elevation. Here, one can observe three different levels built with splendid cut stones, as an outside mirror of the inside structure.
ARCHITECTURAL FRAME AND SCULPTED DECOR
After passing through the narthex covered by a lower and rather oppressive vault, the visitor may soon perceive the impressive height of the building, the rhythm of the central nave, heightened by its narrowness. Little by little, after considering architecture first built for and focused on prayer, one may discover the principal elements of the structure, the simple lines: centered archways, vertical supports, and little ornamentation apart from the capitals, so as to accentuate the rigorous and severe general aspect.
At the transept crossing, four massive pilasters rise up, in single lines, towards the supporting arches of the cupola octagonal frame, suspended over the void. Beyond the crossing, the sanctuary is composed of a straight bay following the line of the nave, and at the same height. It is completed by a horseshoe-shaped choir, vaulted with a lengthened cul-de-four.
Surrounding the choir, magnificent iron gates from Romanesque time can be admired. They are composed of scrolled wrought iron, ending in sharp spikes, which top the all ensemble at almost three meters high. Their original use was to protect reliquaries from theft. Pilgrims used to gather beyond these gates, in the ambulatory, where stone benches would allow them to rest from their long and strenuous walks. Notice also that the ambulatory is composed of seven bays. This symbolic number is already found in the choir archways and eastern chapels, and seem to characterize the circular structures of the abbey-church. Was it just a coincidence?
The upper-gallery or tribunes offer striking plunging views. Their function is mostly architectural, and less for public use. In fact, they assure the general stability of the edifice. Set above the side-aisles, their quarter-centered vaults push against the beginning of the nave barrel arch and the crossings, on each side, where the thrust is the most important. Along their length, they play a quite similar role to the Gothic arched buttresses, continuously shoring up forces. This technique which appeared almost simultaneously in Conques, Toulouse in the basilica of Saint-Sernin and also in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, had consequences on both the nave height and the lightness of the side walls.
The tribunes are widely opened by series of twin-bays, set under discharging arches.
Compared with the buildings’ architectural unity and functionality, the sculpted decor is equally rich and diverse. It can be admired either, in each fascinating capital, testimony of the medieval sculptors’ talents and imagination, or in the extraordinary sculpted tympanum of the Last Judgment, a masterpiece of the 12th century.
CAPITALS AND THE ANNUNCIATION ENSEMBLE
The abbey-church Romanesque capitals, numbering around 250, are mainly installed within the church, at the base of the half-centered arches of the ambulatory, the nave and the transept, at the level of tribunes and even at the beginning of the barrel vault, at the base of the arch-bands.
Nowadays well documented and analyzed for their style by Art historians, these pictures cut in stone allow a better understanding of the evolution of the building site, which proceeded from the east to the west. Many sculptors’ workshops followed one another or collaborated at the same time, using either red sandstone or limestone.
Right after the interlacing design, a period of figurative motifs and Corinthian-inspired style with angular large leaves, emerged within the capitals. These first sculpted supports can be observed mainly around the apse, from the choir to the ambulatory.
In the tribunes, on the choir and transept level, the capital baskets are ruled by bare leaves. From the end of the 11th century to the first years of the 12th, the sculpture of capitals entered its full expansion, under the governance of Abbot Begon and his workshop, the Auvergnate workshop and with pieces realized by the Tympanum master. Some of the most beautiful masterpieces can be found in number, in the tribunes, at the nave level. Profane scenes and, on a lesser degree, religious ones are executed in an exceptionally brilliant manner. In a few cases, the iconography was probably taken from contemporary epic accounts. They diversified more and spread their decor on the abacus, with billet mouldings and foliage networks. They became alive with the most popular figures of the fantastic bestiaries.
The first campaigns of work, under the guidance of abbots Odolric and Etienne II, in the last part of the 11thcentury, left one of the most important known ensemble of capitals with interlacing designs, like the one in Sant Pere of Rodes in Catalogna. They count around thirty in total, all cut in red sandstone, set inside the transept minor apses, around the apse and at the northern gate. The interlacing design is a specific motif composed of flat ribbons, mostly made of three threads, crossing each other or forming a knot. Ribbons pass alternately on top of others, like in basketry work, before ending with a palmette.
The four interlaced and palmette capitals, from the northern crossing entrance, are classified among the most spectacular ornamented works from Romanesque times, because of the quality of their style. Years later, this style disappeared completely to the benefit of the classic Corinthian capitals, interpreted by rows of stacked leaves, beveled and slightly detached from the basket at their tip. These leaves are often smooth and empty of all sculpture, looking unfinished.
The first experiments in the representation of the human figure, still with an interlacing background, can be found in the ambulatory. They are preparing for the coming of the figurative capital, which is the result of a fully developed Romanesque sculpture. As we can see in the southern crossing, the «cycle of Saint Peter» occupies three capitals, including the scene of the arrest, the delivery and the crucifixion of the apostles’ prince, portrayed head down. On the capital separating the two right choir bays, on the south side, Isaac’s sacrifice is set on a location usually reserved for the announcing of Christ on the Cross, next to the master altar.
One of the last capitals, located on the fourth pilaster of the nave, on the north side, is dedicated to the judgment of Saint-Foy, victim of persecution by the emperor Diocletian. Six figures line around the basket, at regular intervals, with their feet resting on the astragal. On the right side, a cross carrying angel rests his hand on Saint-Foy’s shoulder, as if to comfort her. A man is catching the saintly girl by the arm, leading her, apparently by force, to stand in front of pro-consul Dacian. On the opposite side, he seats on a throne and is passing the sword to the executioner, the instrument for the beheading. Left of the basket, Dacian’s devilish spirit is set as if opposing the guardian angel, depicted as a hideous devil holding a snake in both hands. This expressive figure, created in a well defined manner, was already the forerunner of the tympanum of the Last Judgment.
In Conques, the most important ensemble of capitals is the one inherited from the early 12th century sculptors, in the tribunes, on top of the side aisles. When one perceives the amount of ornamented capital baskets, animal motives, spreading even to the abacuses, or the human figure, the genius, talent and imagination of these sculptors appears beyond limit. Except for the capital of the Annunciation, all the figurative capitals depict profane themes, among which some might come from epic accounts, such as the Song of Roland. Nevertheless, a doubt persists as they cannot be related to a specific episode from the same epic story. This profane influence can be seen in the northern gallery, in front of the ivory horn blowers, twin figures used for the purpose of symmetry and separated by a palmette. The keen eye of the artist can be revealed here in the treatment of the hand gesture, positioned on the hip. Facing this scene, in the southern gallery, a duel takes place between two men at arms. Protected by their shields, they are fighting in full gear, one with a short sword, the other with a spear. Victory seems to smile on the last one, as he is piercing his opponent’s shield, at chest level. All the military gear is sharply detailed. Not far from this scene, two horsemen are facing each other in a bloody combat.
The sculpted group of the Annunciation is displayed, at about eight meters high, on the northern wall of the transept. Set under a decorated archway, this traditional scene is composed of the archangel Gabriel, identified by an engraved inscription on his banner. He is bowing slightly towards Mary in respect and is addressing her. She is busy spinning wool and is handing her distaff to a young maid standing behind her, on the right, a wool-ball in her hand. However, all is not serenity in Mary’s attitude, as she is expressing her consent and submission with her hand wide-open in front of her chest.
THE TYMPANUM OF THE LAST JUDGMENT
At the western gate, deep barrel vaulting shelters the tympanum of the Last Judgment, one of the masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture from the first half of the 12th century, noticeable by its artistic quality and originality, as well as its dimensions. It was probably made under the governance of Abbot Boniface, head of the monastery between 1107 and 1125, and by a sculptor who had already worked on the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
With dimensions of 6.70m wide on 3.60m high, it shelters at least one hundred and twenty four figures, in a relatively good state of conservation.
For the visitor reaching the church square, the tympanum set at 3.50m high remains readable, despite the crowding of figures and the diversity of the represented scenes. In fact, all is set around the central figure of Christ, out-of proportion with the others, so as to attract all the attention. On his left, «hell seems the image of Paradise in negative (set on his right), an anti-heaven. In this case, all is order, limpidity and peace, contemplation and love, when in the other it’s violence, compulsive agitation and fright.»(Marcel Durliat).
The general composition is simple. The wide half-circle shaped tympanum contains three levels, separated with banners holding engraved inscriptions. To fill these levels, the sculptor divided them into a suite of compartments, corresponding to each limestone slab, making a total close to twenty. They were first sculpted on the ground then assembled in position, in a somewhat giant puzzle. This division, easy to observe, was a smart arrangement, using joints that never cut a scene or a figure.
The principal inspiration for the Last Judgment came from Saint-Matthew’s Gospel. The sculptor incised the dramatic moment when Christ pronounced his final words, incised in the small banners held by two angels on both sides of his head. To the sheep placed on His right, He said: «Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world». Turning to His left, He said: «Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels» and concluding that the ones on the left «will go away everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life».
Christ is indicating the first words to the elected, lining up towards him, with a welcoming raised right hand. With his left one, lowered, he points out Hell to the cursed. He is the judge giving out the sentence. The contrasting gesture gives Christ’s figure the appearance of a conductor, directing a great show, in full progress for more than eight centuries, and is set just above the church square.
Christ sits on the throne, in an almond-shaped glory, sparkled by stars, among five rows of festoons representing the clouds. The elongated face expressing the King-Judge severity is even more striking when seen from its profile. His garments, tunic and coat, are high-cut to reveal the wound caused by the spear and was probably originally painted. He is surrounded by «all His angels». On his left, one holds a finely chased incense-burner, and another the Book of Life, wide open. Two angels, executioners, fully armed with a flaming sword and a lance, fulfill their given mission of containing the tumultuous devilish crowd of the condemned, behind the borders of Hell. At Christ’s feet, rising from a cloud, two angels carry a candelabrum, as it said that on Judgment Day: «The sun will become dark, and the moon will no longer shine». From all these creatures, with no doubt the most beautiful are the angels blowing into their trumpets and filling the upper corners. Finally, the huge cross set above Christ and carried by two angels holding the nail and the lance blade, emphasizes the recall of the Passion of Christ.
The elected multitude is in motion towards Christ, under the guidance of Mary, followed by Saint Peter holding the Paradise keys, with behind them, other figures without a halo, as they do not represent holy persons. In fact, the «Master of the Tympanum» was bold enough to insert in this triumphant procession figures issuing from the history of the local monastery: the hermit Dadon, founder of the abbey, followed by an abbot holding his crook (probably Begon), leading by the hand the Emperor Charlemagne, legendary benefactor of the monastery, but who also had many things to repent for. The two monks behind him, one holding a diptych, the other a reliquary resting on a precious cloth, are presenting the exhibits for the defense, proofs of the imperial generosity towards Saint-Foy treasure.
Under Christ’s figure, the weighing of the souls takes place, with the archangel Saint Michael being confronted by a mocking devil, with defying looks, each one kneeling by the scales. Despite the cheating attitude of the devil pressing his finger on the weighing scale, the favors seem to go to the good deeds. On the left, the resurrection of the bodies takes place, in stone like it would be in a film sequence. With the helping hand of angels lifting the lids, the dead bodies rise up one after the other from their sarcophagus.
On the left, on the opposite triangle-shaped frame, small archways show Conques church with the chains offered by released prisoners hanging from its beams, like a thanksgiving as was custom and as a reminder of Saint Foy’s protection. On the right, she is leaning towards the divine hand and interceding in favor of the deceased.
The lower level is divided into two sections. On the left, Paradise is portrayed by the Celestial Jerusalem, architectural in appearance with its battlement towers, columns and archways. The sculptors of Conques favored familiar and realistic elements of day-to-day life, such as the oil lamps, called calelhsin the Rouergue, hanging from the vaults, like a light for the eternal kingdom. In the center sits Abraham, holding two children in his arms, probably the Holy Innocents. He is framed by pairs of figures under arcades: the Wise Virgins with their lamps, the martyrs with their palm leaves, the prophets with their scrolls of parchment, and lastly, the apostles with their books. The quite monotonous row of the stoically faced elected seems to give the idea that order and serenity rule Paradise. An angel stands by its door, welcoming the elected. Opposite, across a partition, a bushy and spiky-haired devil, armed with a club, is forcing the cursed into Hell’s monstrous throat.
The sculptor knew how to strongly contrast the celestial peace with the violent chaos and confusion of Hell. Set on the center of the right lintel, mimicking Abraham’s position, Satan presides over the extraordinary torturing, with his feet resting on the belly of a condemned lying in the flames, apparently the sloth. On each side, a hideous crowd of devils obviously enjoys the virulent punishments inflicted on the authors of Mortal Sins.
Wearing chain-mail like a knight, the first mortal sin, Hubris is thrown down by the stroke of a pitch fork. The adulteress, her chest bare, her neck tied with a rope, stands still with her lover behind her, as if waiting for Satan’s terrible verdict. The miser is hanged high, his purse around his neck, a toad under his feet. Then a devil is dragging out the tongue of a small figure, to show Calumny or Slander. Anger must be found elsewhere, in the triangular space, on the left, above the mouth of Hell. There, a devil is eating the brains of the condemned, who commits suicide by pushing a knife into his throat. Beside him, a hunched-back devil grabs the harp of another soul, while tearing off his tongue with a hook. This poor musician and singer probably represent the minstrel, the public entertainer, as a symbol of vanity for the pleasures of the world. Opposite, the triangular frame on the right holds a surprising scene, filled with irony. A man is barbecued above open flames, by two devilish creatures, one with a hare like head. Could it be interpreted as the torture of the poacher? Or, should we simply see a representation of Hell, the inverted world, where the hunter becomes the victim of his own prey?
Above this lintel, on the second level, Hell fills two spaces. Here, the sculptor didn’t have to treat precise themes and could freely use his inspiration. In an indescribable mingle of heads and bodies, the infernal and bony creatures, a grin on their face, are enjoying themselves and are competing in punishments inflicted on the damned, in a dedicated manner.
On the left panel, a devil is biting off the crown of a king represented naked, as if to mock him. The bad sovereign points his finger towards the group of the elected and towards Charlemagne, as if to record his dissent for not being on the good side. Just above him, devils with rough and frightening looks raise their battle axes, clubs and even a cross-bow, a weapon rarely represented in this early part of the 12th century. This package might be illustrating the horrors of war.
The next right hand panel is dedicated to a terrifying punishment. A seated condemned, caught in the grip of a vixen-looking devil is flayed alive, while another she-devil devours his skin with great delight. Beside them, the drunkard hanging by his feet is throwing up the wine he drank to excess during his past life. In 1940, a molding of the tympanum made for the Parisian Musée des Monuments Français, now the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, allowed us to identify the counterfeiter. He is located inside the smallest triangular frame, just above the drunkard. It was possible to identify him, because of his tools, the anvil, a begging bowl full of money, but most of all the mint, some sort of cylinder held in his hand. The most surprising evidence is the inscription the sculptor took time to engrave on its small top surface, totally unreadable from down below, a coin matrix with the inscriptioncunei (coin).
On the same level, on the left, the bad monks also have their place in Hell, as have the bad kings. An abbot falls to the ground holding his crook. A hunched-back and bellied devil is capturing three monks in a fishing net, among whom another abbot holds an inverted crook.
In this representation of Hell, all is arranged in order to frighten the illiterate, the big majority of the population in these times, as is revealed by the quotation engraved on the lintel base:
«O sinners, change your morals
for you might face a cruel judgment».
As if to strike the mind, vivid colors highlighted the sculptures. Some important remains are still visible, with a dominating blue for Paradise and red for Hell. Was the Last Judgment first conceived as a high relief fresco?
The pictures of the text, mainly taken here from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, never excluded realistic and anecdotal elements. Without falling systematically into fatalism, the Last Judgment, on Saint-Foy church, can apply to all and be understood through its rich iconography and its narrative and educational style. One can easily imagine the pilgrims standing on the church square, trying to decipher the scenes, one by one. As a matter of fact, church art was the only art available to be contemplated by the multitude. Conques’ tympanum, in comparison to the tympanum at Toulouse or Moissac, spoke more directly to the people’s mind.
THE STAINED-GLASS WINDOWS BY PIERRE SOULAGES
Since 1994, a public order has allowed Conques abbey-church to obtain stained-glass windows made by Pierre Soulages. The material used by the artist is a translucent «unstained» glass which respects the variation of natural light and modulates it, bringing continuity between the walls surface and the windows, either seen from the inside or the outside. In this artistic arrangement, the lines of the saddle bars and the lead fittings take a full part, making this masterpiece one of the most unique of creations of Contemporary Art.
THE GENESIS OF THE MASTERPIECE
«From the beginning, I was moved by the desire to serve and respect this architecture, as it came to us, in the purity of its lines and proportions, the modulations of its stone tonalities, the order of its light and the life coming from such a space. Far from recreating Middle Age, mimicked or dreamed of, and with the available contemporary technologies, I looked for a glass that fit the identity of this 11th century sacred architecture and its artistic emotional power».
In 1986, after refusing many projects for different monuments, Pierre Soulages accepted the one presented by the Culture Ministry with enthusiasm. It consisted of the realization of an Arts Delegation and Heritage Direction public order of one hundred and four windows, for Saint-Foy church, which is located at short distance from Rodez, his native town. The discovery of the church itself, masterpiece of the western Romanesque art, on the Compostela trail, drew Pierre Soulages to consecrate his life to arts. «When I was 14, it was in front of Conques abbey-church that I made art my sole interest in life (…) Conques is the site of my first artistic emotions».
Pierre Soulages then faced a huge challenge, which was to fill with light one of the jewels of Romanesque art, known worldwide for its architecture and its prestigious treasure of gilded art sheltering at its heart the statue-reliquary of Saint Foy.
The artist started by analyzing with method and objectivity the architecture, «in order to put aside the emotions linked to childhood». The massive structure of the imposing church, with the ambulatory and radiating chapels, the beautiful proportions, the nave swinging high (one of the tallest of Romanesque art, with a height three times the width) gives a feeling of harmony and stillness. The massiveness is balanced by the soft shading of columns, breaking from the solid pilasters and their sharp edges, and with fine cut stones from three different quarries, the yellow limestone, the pink sandstone and the grey-blue schist.
Despite the short length of the church (56m), the number of openings is impressive (95 windows and 9 loop-holes). Pierre Soulages noted here «the importance in the arrangement of light in this building».
From 1987 to 1994, Pierre Soulages works and research were guided by the quality of light adapted to this specific space.
FROM THOUGHT TO ACTION: A NEW APPROACH
Usually, the work of an artist in charge of creating stained-glass windows, starts with colorful sketches given to a stained-glass worker, who in turn interprets and translates them from the original thoughts. For Pierre Soulages, «the stained-glass windows could not be the reproduction in glass of a model coming from any pictorial sketch». In Conques, he doesn’t use this approach. After analyzing all the existing industrial type of glass, without finding what he was looking for, he decided to create his own material. Using a new approach, he imagined an unique type of glass adapted to the location and created it, and only then conceived the project.
With this new approach to the stained-glass technique, the craft was deeply challenging for Jean-Dominique Fleury, the stained-glass master collaborating with Pierre Soulages in the creation of Conques windows. «My hand had become foreseeable. Through his own vision, Soulages turned it upside down. What happened during these three years: at each creative level, there was a new unforeseeable challenge arising with the same powerful degree as in the beginning. The result was overwhelming us. We had to rethink our habits. The material, through its own strength, would constrain us to it».
CREATION OF THE GLASS AND MODULATION OF LIGHT
«The created space is such, that we don’t want our sight to be distracted by the outside surroundings. That’s the reason why I had to find a glass which was not transparent, one that allowed the light through without bringing the exterior view in (…) That is what brought me to create a specific glass, a glass which diffused and modulated the light.»
Pierre Soulages did extensive researches, more than 400 tests, at the international research center on glass, CIRVA (Centre International de Recherches sur le Verre et les Arts plastiques), in Marseilles in 1988, then 300 tests at Saint-Gobin Vitrage research center, in Aubervilliers. He finally obtained a new glass material made from a colorless glass.
The result is a translucent glass, not transparent, allowing the light through it, but staying opaque to the view. It is a glass which diffuses the light and is not the result of a surface effect but rather the way its mass is made up. This translucent modulation comes from the natural effect produced by unevenly distributed tiny glass fragments of different sizes, and from their partial vitrification during fusing process.
«What guided me was the will to bring the light to life, while modulating it, and to create a surface appearing like the source of lightness, while respecting the architectural identity and its own artistic or sacred emotional power.»
THE «LUMINOUS WHITE»
«It’s obvious that the reds, blues and all the vivid colors found in the Gothic stained-glass windows of the northern Loire region would only harm the delicate stone colors and the inside space of this monument. I truly wanted to respect its identity and not to disturb the quality of the space by any means. This quality is generated by the dimensions of the bays and their unique distribution. Only the natural light seemed to agree to it.»
As a paradox, in Conques, in replacement for the stained-glass figurative and polychromatic windows created and installed after WWII, Pierre Soulages chose for his project, a colorless glass called «water white or achromatic», which respects the natural light waves.
Here, no polychromatic elements: What guided his work was the will to bring the natural light inside. While installing a first test window with glass-master Jean-Dominique Fleury, Pierre Soulages tells of their surprise when discovering that modulations of the light would give birth to a chromatic scale. «When a section of the glass-window, viewed from the inside is very luminous, it turns bluer than in its neighboring section of a lesser intensity, which has a warmer tint. Some blue might be missing from it since it’s mirrored on the outside. From now on and knowing this cause-effect relationship, I created stained-glasses according to their view from the inside and from the outside. From there, they are not the usual dark surfaces anymore. Either seen from the inside or the outside, they are brought to life by the light they receive. They fully agree with the monument which is receiving a similar light.»
BLACK, THICKNESS AND RHYTHM
On the start of the project, the created material, the produced light and its modulation, as well as the architecture, were all equally important. «I needed to differentiate the world of light from the world of opacity. The one of the bays from the one of the walls […]. Without being even aware of it, I avoided instinctively the formal repetition in the lead and glass drawings. I preferred oblique lines, rather flowing, slightly curved, stretched more or less, with the tension driven generally upwards. There are no orthogonal lines, only soft ones visualizing life energy rather than gravity. They follow the modulation of the light, through all the surface of the bay where unity is not broken by any contrasts.»
Based on the same principle, Pierre Soulages removed the usual stained-glass border that underlines the windows’ edge. Through this omission, he wanted to keep the purity and the power of the bay architecture, unknowingly making his masterpieces similar to the first alabaster panels, found in churches before the use of glass.
The work started with Jean-Dominique Fleury and Eric Savalli, at the artist’s workshop in Paris and Sète. It went on at the glass-master’s workshop in Toulouse. An unusual method was used. The leads were drawn with black masking tape of similar width, set upon a smooth white surface of the same dimension as the bay. The masking tape, able to be moved many times, allowed them to achieve little by little and after many distant controls, the right lines. Jean-Dominique Fleury remembers: «Soulages’ eye drawing in the distance, placing the lines, the tape stripes coming into tension, space and alignment on the carton, giving the black, the thickness and the rhythm».
In addition, the specifications required the resetting of the saddle bars and lead fittings. Pierre Soulages wanted these steel bars, essential in the rigidity and bearing of the stained-glasses, to «strongly participate in the artistic arrangement, motivated as much by the chosen rhythm of the leads and shapes as by their bearing purpose». They were chosen to be horizontal and even in number, to avoid dividing the surface by the middle. During the installation of a test window, Pierre Soulages and Jean-Dominique Fleury were surprised to see that these bars fitted exactly into the places for the original saddle bars: a meeting of minds of the modern artist and the monument’s builders…
Pierre Soulages’ stained-glass windows are nowadays an integral element of Conques abbey-church architecture, its history and its collective memory..
If worldwide visitors rush to Conques, it’s to discover, with the same drive, its monumental architecture, its treasure and its stained-glass windows which bring the light to life, a «somehow transmuted» light, a light «in accordance with the function of this architecture and the emotion felt in this space, agreeing with its purpose of contemplation, meditation and prayer»: a light in the center of Pierre Soulages’work, a work he has been pursuing for more than sixty years.
Few things remain from the medieval monastic building that used to shelter an important community of Benedictine monks. Only parts of the cloister square and the Abbots Chapel still stand.
The cloister, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful in southern France, was erected at the end of the 11th century by Abbot Begon III, below the southern part of the church transept. Unfortunately, due to lack of maintenance, it mostly disappeared during the early 19th century. The cloisters served as a quarry for the residents. Prosper Mérimée arrived a few years too late to save it.
The only rescued structures were, on the east side, two small arches opening into the former Chapter House and, on the opposite side, the six twin-bays allowing communication between the western cloister gallery and the monks refectory. The works realised in 1972 by the Historical Monuments ended up with the restitution of the cloister area. Under a thick layer of dirt, fragments of the pavement and the foundations of the coped wall, supporting the inside arcades, were exposed. With this discovery, the rebuilding of three galleries in their outlines, out of the four original ones, became possible.
The building sheltering the Treasure stands on what used to be the lost gallery. The remodelled pavement and rebuilt coped wall suggest well the original plan of the Romanesque cloister, whose consecration took place around the year 1100, as indicated in a recently discovered engraved lintel.
The cloister area seems rather small (28×26 m) compared with its contemporaries, such as the one in Moissac (39×37 m). In Conques, the main difficulty faced by the builders was the lack of space. Yet, the monument demonstrates an ambitious program, both in its architecture and its sculpture. Close to thirty capitals from the lost arcades are now exhibited, either in the former refectory in front of the entrance to the Treasure, or in the lapidary room, in the Joseph-Fau Museum basement. They all relate to each other by the use of a light grey limestone, coming from a Causse Comtal quarry, a particular type of material that doesn’t reappear elsewhere. On the capitals’ baskets and abacuses, as well as animal and angelic themes, a world of monk-builders, warriors, acrobats and monkey trainers all invite the visitor to bring this early 12th century society back to life.
Finally, the large cloister fountain has been reconstructed and restored with its original elements. This basin, made with a dark-green serpentine, a top quality stone, with the magnificence of its rhythm and sculpted decor, yet without its missing central bronze basin, still represents a monument second to none in all monastic art.
THE ABBOTS’ CHAPEL
Open onto the cloister, the Abbots’ Chapel, also called the Rosary Chapel, is a 15thcentury construction. In 1465, the objectives were to install the monastic library on its second floor. This edifice is divided by three bays and includes the choir which ends with a flat apse.
The vault constituting a cross rib-vaulting with pointed arches, carries painted murals characterised by the association of religious and profane themes (based on the Grotesque) and was made during the early part of the 16th century, for the Abbot Antoine de Marcenac. The representations of the Holy Face and the Holy Tunic, the symbols of the Evangelists in medallions or angel musicians, are set near hybrid creatures or poets’ profiles in Roman antiquity style, all set in luxuriant surroundings of flourishes, festoons and volutes.
THE TREASURE OF GOLDSMITH’S ART
During the course of time, the universally enthusiastic descriptions of the Treasure have used admiring words such as «rare» and «remarkable», «splendid» and «marvelous», «astonishing», «fascinating», «mysterious» or even «enigmatic» and finally, for sure, «unique».
The Treasure of Conques is composed of many reliquaries with the famous Majesty of Saint Foy as its masterpiece, an unique example of reliquary statuary from the first millennium. This treasure stands as one of the greatest medieval goldsmith’s works of art in Europe and the sole in France to display so many elements from the High Middle Ages. It is a witness of the worship and devotion of relics. These precious holy bodies were at the source of an abbey’s development and prosperity. At that time, each sanctuary welcomed crowds of pilgrims, sharing similar fervor, in the hope of receiving Earth benefits and rewards in Heaven. What is even more astonishing is the continuous reverence of the religious relics, still as strong today.
This word of reverence not only brings to mind the material and artistic richness of gold and silver coatings decorated with filigree, antique stones, cut gem stones, pearls and enamels, above all, it stands for the religious importance given to the contents of these carefully decorated caskets.
During the French Revolution, the Treasure of Conques could have been confiscated and its various pieces melted down, as was the case for the majority of other treasures. Indeed, money was needed to finance the war and to save the «endangered nation». This inestimable heritage was saved because of the courage and crafty actions of Conques’ residents, who hid the reliquary caskets in their houses and gardens, and returned them later on.
Still appointed to the cult, although they became property of the commune in 1905, these artifacts are still regularly used in the Catholic liturgy. They didn’t become museum pieces, despite the fact that they are classified Historical Monuments since 1895. This is the evidence of their great heritage value and it justifies the measures taken to give access to as many people as possible who wish to admire them.
Kept in the abbey-church until 1875, the Treasure was installed in a specifically constructed south wing of the cloister, in 1911. The display was totally rethought in 1953-1955 and during the year 2002, the objects were regrouped into a chronological and thematic order.
SAINT FOY IN MAJESTY
The Majesty of Saint Foy, crowned and sitting on a throne, is displayed in a rotunda. By its structure, it could remind one of a pagan temple as well as a church apse. Raised inside, on several steps, it gives the concept of a «throne room». Saint Foy is draped around with dark red velvet, a strong color, which evokes the blood of the martyrdom and the triumph of the faith.
This piece of art dating from the 9th to the 10th century and charged with an exceptional historical and artistic interest, shelters a sacred relic: the top of Saint Foy’s skull. Saint Foy was an adolescent Christian martyred in Agen in 303 A.D., and whose remains were brought to Conques in a «furtive transfer», in 866.
In all aspects, it stands as an astonishing work of art (its antiquity, making, style and symbolism). The Majesty of Saint Foy has caused much debate among the theologians and historians. The modeling is quite surprising. The body is disproportionate (large head, hands and feet). The facial expression is severe and haughty (large blue eyes and chin held high). The gleaming gold, the gems and the enamels give an odd feeling, which often leads one to think that this reliquary is something more like an idol. In reality, it is an icon, the figure of a saint, in which the divine light is mirrored in her face, as it is drawn towards the High Heaven. It shows Saint Foy triumphant over death and interceding for the pilgrims who pray to her. Such has always been the Catholic doctrine in the cult of holy pictures and relics.
Crudely carved from yew wood, the statue stops at the neck, on which is fitted the hollow head of gold, cut from an antique bust (4th-5th century). The covering of gold, engraved with small flowers (9th century) has been embellished over time. The oldest pieces are the bands around the collar, the sleeves and the robe edge (10th century). They comprise numerous intaglios carved with pagan motifs. The crown is adorned with cloisonné-enamel in gold (10th century). The throne of gilded silver has similar Pre-Romanesque bands, but the balls of rock crystal are Gothic in style. The arms and hands were refashioned during the 16th century and their original position is unknown.
A NAMED «AFTER CHARLEMAGNE»
As said in the legend, Charlemagne, founder of many abbeys, sent a reliquary in the shape of a letter to all of them. Conques received the letter A, ranking it first among the chosen «monasteries». This tradition is taken from the Chronicle of Conqueswritten at the time of the making of the reliquary. In fact, an inscription indicates that Abbot Bégon III (1087-1107) ordered its creation. With it, he was certainly recognizing a very ancient tradition. On the back side, a marvelous composition can be admired, an ensemble of filigree and enameled settings encircling an intaglio on a carnelian, representing a winged Victoria writing on a shield.
RELIQUARY NAMED «AFTER PEPIN»
Re-modeled on several occasions, this small reliquary has a collection of 9th-11thcentury pieces, with additions made during the 12th, 13th and 16th centuries. Some of the most precious artifacts are the translucent red or green enamels, on a gilded background, dating from Carolingian times. On the reverse side are other opaque enamels, blue, white and red, with bird wings in cloisonné. They date from the 11thcentury. It is also worth noting the abundance of filigree and the arcades mounted with bands of gems, not forgetting the antique carnelian intaglio representing Apollo.
PORTABLE ALTAR FROM ABBOT BEGON
On the porphyry plaque edges, a long silver-engraved inscription embellished with niello, indicates the precise date on which Pons, bishop of Barbastro (Spain), gave this altar to Abbot Bégon III. It shelters relics of the Cross and the tomb of Christ. The busts of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Foy, nineteen other saints, apostles, evangelists and martyrs appear engraved on the sides.
SAINT FOY’S PORTABLE ALTAR
This object doesn’t bear Begon’s name, but has always been attributed to his workshop (c.1100). It probably comes from a Gospel book binding, which Bégon III ordered for Conques and later on transformed into a portable altar. The alabaster plaque and the embossed gilded-plate band date from the 14th century. It is decorated with ten figures set on copper-cloisonné enameled medallions. A new and original technique of setting was used here, by placing the plaques one on top of the other. The style of faces and halos are quite similar to the 11th century Aquitaine art.
The Latin inscription, made of large readable letters encircling the base of the roof of this small structure (in truth, not a lantern) tells us that Abbot Begon III (1087-1107) ordered this art piece. This reliquary, with its shape of an ancient mausoleum, is decorated with figurative medallions exalting the triumph of Christ over Evil and Death (divine Majesties). The most beautiful is the one representing David victorious over the lion. It is also the most recent (second half of 12th century).
RELIQUARY FROM POPE PASCAL II
The inscription set at the base indicates that Abbot Begon ordered this work of art and that Pope Pascal II sent relics from Christ and some saints, from Rome, in 1100. Quite apart from the pieces from other eras, the beautiful scene of the Crucifixion testifies to the high artistic level obtained by Conques workshop.
RELIQUARY CASKET «FROM ABBOT BONIFACE»
Discovered in 1875, during a demolition of wall, which had been built around the choir, at the end of the 16th century, this casket was restored in 1878 by Poussielgue-Rusand, who made some medallions to replace the missing ones..
This wooden chest covered with silver studded leather is adorned with thirty-one enameled medallions dating from the era of Abbot Boniface (c. 1110-1130). It can be precisely dated by the inscription engraved on one medallion set in the middle of the lid. The coffer contains many large bones of Saint Foy. The decoration of griffins and birds is as remarkable as the technique employed, champlevé enamels on gilded copper. This is a work of major importance in the history of medieval enameling, allowing it to be dated and to localize the passing from one technique to another, cloisonné to champlevé.
This composition made of elements from different times dates from the 7th to the 12thcentury. One can admire the rectangles of Merovingian cloisonné gold plate on the sides of the central jewel, which is bordered with a cloisonné circle, from the same period. All around, plates of silver inlaid with niello-work date back to the end of the 8th century or beginning of the 9th century. The base border made of large cabochons dates from the end of the 9th century.
This reliquary is a later composition (16th century) made with fragments of gold and silver from various periods (7th-13th centuries). The oldest parts are the cloisonné plates (7th century) and the gilded silver pieces surrounded with embossed foliage (9th century).
VIRGIN MARY ON MAJESTY WITH CHILD
On the shoulders of the Virgin Mary, the enameled escutcheons carry a coat of arms, yet to be identified. One can distinguish in the folds of the clothes the hallmark of a goldsmith, perhaps from Flagnac, from the end of the 13th century.
This reliquary is a threefold panel, from the second half of the 13th century, with numerous individually set reliquaries, inscribed with saints’ names. The ones of Saint Géraud of Aurillac and Saint Priest (or Projet) of Clermont-Ferrand can be seen.
SAINT GEORGE’S ARM-RELIQUARY
This «Saint George» was a monk from Conques, who became Lodeve bishop in 877. His right arm is mentioned on a list of relics, established in the 17th century. The hand adopts the blessing gesture, according to the western manner. Christ on the Cross is represented in a Gothic style, at the bottom of the sleeve (end of 13th century to early 14th century).
SMALL STATUE OF SAINT FOY
Entirely covered in silver and partly gilded, this piece of art has the advantage of being well documented. It carries the hallmarks of the goldsmith Pierre Frechrieu and of the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. In addition, the written contracts for this statue are preserved in the Departmental Archives, allowing us to know precisely the quantities of silver used and the deadlines and the conditions set for the creation of this reliquary. The style is similar to the beautiful sculptures of the late Gothic Rouergue and Albi region, particularly for the delicate charm found in characters such as the Annunciation of Inières (Aveyron). Saint Foy was martyred as a young girl and this icon symbolizes her youth (long flowing hair), her virginity (the crown), her torture and her death (the grill and the double-edged sword). The large palm-leaf held in her left hand signifies her martyrdom.
A splendid piece of art from the end of the Middle Ages, this cross was made by Pierre Frechrieu, a goldsmith from Villefranche-de-Rouergue, famous from 1493 until his death in 1512. On the back of the cross, a graceful silhouette of the young Saint Foy with long curly hair stands in place of the Virgin Mary.
The knot of the cross displays eight figures of apostles, standing under a Gothic canopy. At the base of the upright supporting Christ’s figure, a cavity had been placed and contains the relics of the Cross.
BOOK OF MIRACLES OF SAINT FOY
Written on parchment and dating from the 11th century, it was partially composed by Bernard, a school master at Angers cathedral, in 1013, on his return journey from Conques. He describes the Pre-Romanesque church, the Majesty and other reliquaries, and tells of the numerous miracles related to the cult of the relics, which justified the religious reverence of the Majesty, as an icon.
SAINT FOY’S BELT
Made of red silk with gold brocade, decorated with raised designs of small flowers and crossed hands in gilded silver, it dates from the end of the Middle Ages, more probably from the 16th century. It bears witness to the traditional devotion to the saint of Conques, to whom women pray for a safe and happy pregnancy. The Christian name Foy is still given in thanks for this blessing.
The Treasure displays other religious artifacts of lesser artistic interest, but which have great importance for the history of Conques, after the period of Romanesque magnificence: reliquary-busts, a carved copper cross, incense-burners, a copper host box, pewter burettes, a lead plaque, seal matrices, manuscripts, etc.
THE JOSEPH FAU MUSEUM
Set in a former house located near the Plô fountain, below the church square, this museum shelters a rich collection of sculptures (capitals, statues…) and artefacts coming from the abbey and displayed on different floors. It was named after Doctor Joseph Fau, Mayor of Conques from 1953 to 1977.
On the ground floor, the visitor can discover high quality painted and gilded wooden statues (15th to 17th century): a crucifix, Christ from a Holy Sepulchre, Saint Roch and a stone statue of Saint Foy, originally positioned under the tympanum until the 19thcentury, a choir lectern (17th century) and a painting representing Saint Roch, realised in 1843 by Delmas, a painter from Rodez. The interest of this painting comes from the representation of the Saint-Foy abbey-church without its two front tours, in the background.
On the first floor, elements of furniture and decoration dating from the 17th and 18th centuries are displayed in different rooms: an imposing chasuble cupboard with exotic motives carved on the doors, wooden elements of a chimney cover with a painting on canvas, a coffer, a table, a canopy bed made of elements from former altar-pieces (a 1644 panel carries Guillaume Chirac’s signature, a master carpenter from Conques). On this floor, the major masterpieces are the seven tapestries made circa 1634 by the Felletin workshops (in the former province of Haute-Marche). They represent the life of Mary-Magdalene and were originally decorations for the abbey Chapter House.
The basement room displays Romanesque capitals and abacuses (11th-12th centuries) coming from the former cloister, lapidary inscriptions and various elements from the original Romanesque church pavement, quite intriguing with its marble and porphyry inlays, and a much older element from the 10th century church, a chancel-screen fragment, etc.
1 Office de Tourisme L’Office de Tourisme est installé dans une ancienne demeure bourgeoise du XVIIe siècle, dont les étages supérieurs conservent, sous chacune des fenêtres, un harmonieux réseau de pans de bois. L’horloge rappelle la destination publique de ce bâtiment, autrefois hôtel-de-ville. Datée de 1843, l’armature métallique qui supporte le clocheton et sa petite cloche provient, quant à elle, de la tour nord-ouest de l’abbatiale Sainte-Foy
2 Abbatiale Sainte-Foy Edifice majeur de l’architecture romane, l’abbatiale Sainte-Foy est un impressionnant vaisseau de pierre qui surprend par son élévation intérieure. L’étage des tribunes permet d’admirer les remarquables chapiteaux historiés et les vitraux contemporains du peintre Pierre Soulages. Le tympan du Jugement dernier et ses 124 personnages est l’un des chefs d’œuvre de la sculpture française du XIIe siècle. 2
Les fontaines Captée depuis au moins le XIe siècle, l’eau de source est recueillie à partir de fontaines romanes réparties dans les différents quartiers de la ville. Ces monuments, généralement bien conservés, adoptent les mêmes principes architecturaux, autour d’un réservoir maçonné, à demi-enterré et couvert d’une voûte en berceau.
3 Fontaine du Plô La fontaine du Plô, aux portes de l’abbatiale, est signalée dès le XIIe siècle dans un manuscrit le Liber sancti Jacobi. Ses eaux, aux “vertus admirables” désaltéraient alors les pèlerins. 3
4Trésor Le Trésor d’orfèvrerie représente véritablement le joyau du patrimoine de Conques. Aménagé dans une salle qui s’apparente à une crypte, cet ensemble unique au monde de reliquaires rappelle l’importance de la dévotion aux reliques dans l’Occident médiéval. Outre l’extraordinaire et troublante Majesté de sainte Foy (IXe -XIXe siècle) recouverte d’or, de pierres précieuses, de camées et d’intailles, le trésor rassemble un grand nombre de reliquaires, de coffres et d’autels portatifs.
5 Musée Joseph-Fau Le musée Joseph-Fau doit son nom à un ancien maire de Conques. Il abrite de remarquables collections provenant, pour l’essentiel, de l’ancienne abbaye. Le visiteur y découvrira notamment une partie des chapiteaux du cloître roman, diverses sculptures et boiseries (XVIe — XVIIIe siècle) ainsi que des tapisseries de Felletin (verdures et cycle de la vie de Marie-Madeleine) (XVIIe siècle). 5
6 Chapelle du Rosaire La chapelle du Rosaire (ou chapelle des abbés), autrefois située dans l’enclos des bâtiments conventuels, est un édifice à chevet plat, constitué de trois travées dont la construction remonte à 1465. Outre un devant d’autel en bois de l’extrême fin du XVe siècle, et un groupe sculpté, légèrement postérieur, figurant la Crucifixion, l’originalité de la chapelle réside dans son décor peint conservé sur l’ensemble des voûtes. Motifs profanes (grotesques) et thèmes religieux (Sainte Face, tunique du Christ, symboles des Evangélistes) composent un ensemble décoratif d’une grande originalité iconographique au début du XVIe siècle.
Une ville fortifiée A l’époque médiévale et sous l’Ancien Régime, Conques doit son statut de ville à l’existence d’une muraille qui la circonscrit dans un périmètre étroit. L’enceinte, construite en schiste, adopte la forme d’un quadrilatère irrégulier, accroché à la pente nord-sud. Quatre portes et de rares tours de flanquement, signalées dès le XIIIe siècle, rythmaient cette ceinture de murs, doublés en certains endroits d’un fossé.
7 Porte du Barry Voûtée en berceau et supportée par un grand arc de décharge en grès rouge, la porte du Barry, dite aussi de la Cavayrie, est surmontée d’un étage d’habitation, rythmé par des pans de bois.
8 Fontaine du Barry La fontaine du Barry fut implantée hors les murs, en léger retrait de l’actuelle rue Charlemagne qui dessert le faubourg. Ce petit édifice, admirablement construit, révèle un bel appareil en pierres de taille, utilisé pour la construction de la voûte en berceau et du réservoir souterrain.
9 Four à pain Répondant à un usage collectif encore avéré pour la période moderne, les deux fours banaux de Conques ont été construits à l’extérieur des remparts, dans le fossé même, afin d’éviter sans doute tout risque d’incendie. Restaurés, ils sont en état de fonctionnement.
10 Château d’Humières Construit par la famille du même nom, le château d’Humières représente un magnifique exemple d’architecture civile des XVe et XVIe siècles. Au corps de logis principal dont l’imposante façade est rythmée par trois niveaux de croisées — l’une d’elles, au nord-ouest, épousant l’arrondi de l’angle du mur — est venue s’accoler une tour d’escalier remarquable par son couronnement de plan octogonal qui rappelle la tour-lanterne de l’abbatiale.
11 Porte de la Vinzelle La porte de la Vinzelle, surmontée d’une tour massive de plan carré abritant un logement de défense, doit son nom à un village voisin qui surplombe le cours du Lot. Côté village, une niche abrite une statue de la Vierge à l’Enfant, en bois polychrome (XIVe -XVe siècle).
12 Tour d’enceinte Elément essentiel de défense sur le flanc nord de l’enceinte, une tour de plan circulaire (fin du XVe siècle), d’aspect aujourd’hui moins altier en raison du comblement du fossé, présente des archères canonnières réparties sur différents niveaux.
13 Quartier du Palais Ce quartier, situé au point le plus élevé de la pente vit, au XVIe siècle, l’édification d’un collège d’enseignement. Non loin de là, la confrérie des Pénitents bleus, au début du XVIIIe siècle, projetait d’y construire sa chapelle.
14 Couvent des sœurs de l’Union Le couvent des sœurs de l’Union (appelées aussi Filles du Travail) a conservé, entre autres élé- ments architecturaux, son perron du XVIIIe siècle. La petite communauté de religieuses, particulièrement active sous l’Ancien Régime, s’occupait notamment de l’instruction des jeunes filles de Conques.
15 Résidence Dadon Rue Emile Roudié ( a u t r e f o i s r u e Droite), la Résidence D a d o n , c e n t r e municipal d’hébergement, se distingue par son monumental portail de bois et par sa façade austère, percée seulement de croisées. Le bâtiment, fortement remanié au cours des âges, abritait depuis le milieu du XVIIIe siècle, l’hôpital général Sainte-Foy qui accueillit, dans une pesante promiscuité, les nouveaux-nés exposés, les malades incurables et les vieillards impotents.
16 Séchoir à châtaignes Les séchoirs à châtaignes (secadous) témoignent de l’importance de ce fruit dans l’alimentation des populations depuis le XVe siècle. Autrefois forts nombreuses à Conques et dans la campagne environnante, ces constructions, offrant deux niveaux superposés, visaient à assurer, après séchage, la bonne conservation des châtaignes.
17 Fontaine de Fumouze. La fontaine de Fumouze, située à l’entrée est de la ville, se distingue par les claveaux de son arc, en calcaire jaune, et par ses deux margelles destinées à recevoir les seaux.
18 Porte de Fer Dotée d’un linteau en batière, la porte de Fer (dite aussi de Belferri), bien que d’importance stratégique moindre, permettait néanmoins de rejoindre les jardins et les prés donnant sur la vallée de l’Ouche. Dans la rue qui y mène, des mesures à grains, en pierre, provenant de la halle médiévale détruite ont été disposées sous un auvent et rappellent l’importance des échanges économiques entre la cité et son terroir
19 Chapelle Saint-Roch Perchée sur son éperon rocheux et autrefois placée sous le vocable de Notre-Dame, la chapelle Saint-Roch rappelle l’existence jadis en ces lieux du château primitif de Conques. Dans son gros œuvre, l’édifice actuel date du XVe siècle, mais la sacristie accolée plus ancienne subsiste, caractérisée par une maçonnerie dite “en arête de poisson”. A noter l’existence, sous la chapelle, d’une curieuse cavité creusée à même le rocher, abritant deux bassins. De cette plate-forme naturelle, l’on découvre un magnifique panorama sur le village de Conques, étagé sur la pente.
20 Pont romain Le pont romain, ainsi appelé du fait qu’il était emprunté par les romius (les pèlerins) permet de franchir le Dourdou et ses eaux parfois capricieuses. Fortement dissymétrique, l’ouvrage d’origine médiévale mais largement reconstruit en moellons de grès rouge à l’époque moderne (XVIe -XVIIe siècles) comporte cinq arches en plein cintre reposant elles-mêmes sur des piles terminées en amont par des avant-becs triangulaires surmontés de chaperons. 20
21 Oratoire de la Capelette Situé en bordure d’un chemin d’accès, l’oratoire désigné localement sous le nom de la Capelette rappelle le fort courant de dévotion mariale du XVIIe siècle. La construction s’apparente à un simple massif de maçonnerie, couronné d’un toit à deux versants. Dans une niche, surmontée d’un fronton, encadrée de pilastres et obturée par une grille, se devine une élégante statue de la Vierge à l’Enfant en bois (XVIe siècle ?).
DISCOVERY OF ITS RICH HERITAGE
- Its Romanesque Abbeychurch Sainte-Foy (11th-12th century, listed as an UNESCO Heritage Sites on regards of the Compostela trails) with its famous Last Judgment tympanum, its collection of Romanesque capitals and its contemporary stained-glassed by Pierre Soulages
- The remains of its Romanesque cloister (12th century) and its unique central bassin of serpentine, unique in Europe for its style
- The medieval village and its typical framed houses and their roofs made of schistous slates, but most of all…
- Its worldwide famous Medieval Treasure of goldsmith art, with the extraordinary Statue-reliquary «Majesty of Ste-Foy», unique in France, the numerous other reliquaries dating from Caroligian times to the 19th century, 1000 years of goldsmith art saved by Conques’ residents throughout history
- and lastly, the Museum Joseph Fau and its rich collection of sculpture, 16th century furniture and tapestries from Felletin.
The guides from the Service Patrimoine (Tourist Office) will help you discover this rich heritage. Do not hesitate to contact us to know details about guided tours for individuals (English for individuals, depending on availability of guides).
- Guided tours are mainly held in French for individual (April-October). Hours are posted in the village and on our website, in the Home Page, Actualities or in our Agenda.
- During the Low Season, guided tours for individuals are held during school holidays.
- Guided tours for groups are possible all year round, including in English. Refer to the section Groups for more details.
GUIDED TOUR OF THE ABBEY-CHURCH
After a detailed presentation of the tympanum of the Last Judgment, a true masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture, you will be guided inside the church. Conques’ history, its Romanesque architecture and the artwork from Pierre Soulages will be presented during the tour.
This visit (English tour depending on guides’ availability) is planned from April, 1st to the end of September, as well as during the high season and school holidays. In order to know the schedule, we invite you to call the Service Patrimoine (Tourist Office). Inside the village, posters also indicate these schedules. This guided tour allows you to benefit a reduced price to visit the Treasure/Museum Fau.
Time : 45 minutes
Fee : 4.00€/adult ; 2€/child
We remind you that pets are not allowed inside the Church, the Treasure and the Museum Fau, except Guide Dogs.
GUIDED TOUR OF THE UPPER GALLERY (TRIBUNES)
Fully secured and set, the visit of the upper gallery of the abbey-church brings delight to the visitor using this large corridor built during Romanesque times, above the side aisles and the ambulatory. It brings a triple emotion and wonder.
- An unequal view on the building with amazing inside perspectives,
- A direct, close and priviledged approach to the artworks of Pierre Soulages, his stained-glass windows,
- Lastly, a contemplative feeling while admiring the fascinating Romanesque capitals, the results of Middle Age sculptors’ talent, full of life.
This visit (English tour depending on guides’ availability) is planned from April, 1st to the end of September, as well as during the high season and school holidays. In order to know the schedule, we invite you to call the Tourist Office. Inside the village, posters also indicate these schedules.
For security reason, children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the upper gallery.
Time : 45 minutes
Fees : 4.50€ / person
NIGHT TOUR OF THE UPPER GALLERY (TRIBUNES)
During the high season, a visit of the upper gallery by night is possible. During this unguided visit, a leaflet will allow you to discover, at your own pace, the Romanesque capitals. During the visit, the organ play and the light show, bringing the stained-glass windows alive, will make this visit quite memorable.
This visit is planned on a regular basis, from May to the end of September.
For security reasons, children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the upper gallery.
This visit is not planned during major concerts or for any other major unexpected reasons.
Time : about 45 minutes.
Fee : 6€
Regular schedule on season : 9h30 pm (starting point at the North inside staircase).
THE ROMANESQUE ABBEYCHURCH OF CONQUES BROUGHT TO LIGHT BY THE GLASS WORK OF PIERRE SOULAGES
Discover the creative work of Pierre Soulages. Get close to the 104 stained-glass windows created by this contemporary artist worldwide known, with an exceptional guided tour from the upperlevel of the church.
- Tour : 45 minutes — In French for individuals from April 2015 (in English depending on availability of guides)
- Fee : 4,50€/person (for safety reasons, the upperlevel of the church is restricted to public older than 12)
THE TREASURE OF GOLDSMITHS’ ART
The medieval and religious Treasure of goldsmiths’ art from Conques (one of the five great european treasures) cannot be missed. It stands as the sole in France to display so many elements from the High Middle Ages. Besides the famous Majesty of Saint Foy, as its masterpiece (9th century), an unique example of reliquary statuary from the first millennium, it is composed of many reliquaries, coffers and portable altars carrying evocative titles such as the A named «after Charlemagne» , the Reliquary named «after Pepin»,…
The Treasure is open every day (same schedule as the Tourist Office)
(April to September : 9h30 am — 12h30 and 2 pm — 6h30 pm ; October to March : 10 am — 12h00 and 2 pm — 6 pm).
The visit is not guided (except for groups on reservation). A leaflet, given with your entrance fee, will allow you to visit on your own. The entrance ticket is also for the Joseph Fau Museum.
- Full 2016: 6.50€
- Reduced : 4.20€
- Child : 2€
We remind you that pets are not allowed inside the Treasure and the Museum Fau, except Guide Dogs.
JOSEPH FAU MUSEUM
The Joseph Fau Museum shelters a rich collection of sculptures and artefacts from the abbey. The visitor will discover Romanesque capitals from the former cloister, various sculptures and carvings (16th to 18th century), furniture, paintings as well as tapestries made by the Felletin workshops in the 17th century (landscape sceneries and a serie representing the life of Mary-Magdalene).
The Joseph-Fau Museum is open every day (same schedule at the Tourist Office).
The visit is not guided. The entrance ticket is also for the Treasure.
The Museum Fau Shop sales articles inspired by the Treasure.
VISITING THE MEDIEVAL VILLAGE
With the village map, Step by step in the history of Conques, stroll through the streets of the village discovering its exceptional and miraculously preserved architecture, an inheritance from the Middle Ages. Take a journey back in time and space to the year 1000 and to the heart of one of the most beautiful natural sites of the departement. The proposed itinerary guarantees a change of scenery every step of the way, for those who find themselves following in the footsteps of thousands of Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrims welcomed here since the 11thcentury.
The visit of the village can also be done through a game, using the game «Les petits curieux découvrent Conques» (in French only), available at the Tourist Office and the Museum shop (1€).
Guided tours of the village may be organized during the peak season, in late afternoon (in English according to guide’s availibility) or for groups on reservation.
Contact the Service Patrimoine (Tourist Office) for more information.
Guided tours of the town : 4€/adult ; 2€/child
THEMATIC GUIDED TOURS DURING LOW SEASON
The low season is also a priviledged time to discover Conques. A few thematic guided tours are planned, on a regular basis, to present specific subjects related to Conques. These visits are conducted in French, except on reservation for groups.
Themes and schedules are announced in our AGENDA. You can also register in our NEWSLETTER, in order to receive regular information about special events in Conques.
Here is a panel of the presented themes in the past : Les péripéties du Trésor de Conques — La forêt des anges dans les tribunes — Le bestiaire roman — Architecture civile de Conques — Les fortifications de Conques — L’intégration d’une œuvre contemporaine dans un édifice roman : les vitraux de Pierre Soulages — La chapelle Saint-Roch et ses peintures Renaissance — Les masques et l’art du grotesque en sculpture romane — Noël au Moyen Âge et Conques au XI-XIIe siècles.
VINEYARD AOP MARCILLAC
MARCILLAC — 1000 YEARS OLD VINEYARD, A WITNESS OF THE PROSPEROUS TIMES AND MANKIND’S HARD WORK
Since the 9th century, the destiny of Marcillac vineyards has been linked to the historical figures of this region. The monks of Conques, the nobility of Rodez, the counts of Rouergue… enhanced its fame and its abundance. The numerous magnificent mansions spread in the valleys are their perfect expression.
The vineyards of Marcillac are marked by the labour of mankind, the day labourers of the Old times. In order to grow the vine, they tamed this hard land, building on its hillsides rows of small walls made of dry stones, with hardship and good sense.
In 1852, the vineyards of Marcillac was at its peak with 2398 hectares cultivated. But the parasites attack, the world wars, the closing of the mines in Decazeville, the climate changes started its sure agony. However since 1960, a group of men decided to resuscitate it.
THE VALLON, A LAND OF WARM WELCOME BETWEEN SEVERITY AND GOOD DISPOSITIONS
The Vallon de Marcillac, a true maze of valleys slowly carved by predominant streams, is the result of a wide land collapse following the rising of the south-western Massif Central. This half-mountainous zone, with an average altitude of 400m, offers well-exposed hillsides with different shades: ochre, wine-coloured, reds coming from the sandstone soils (Rougier) or limestone soils (Causse).
The three climate zones meet here (semi-continental, Oceanic and Mediterranean) with a strong range of temperatures between day and night. The ideal conditions are gathered to allow the grape variety called « mansois ». Also named « fer servadou », this grape variety from the family of the Cabernets is very close to the wild grape variety. It is used at 90% in our wines, a guarantee of uniqueness.
The geology, the climate, the grape variety and the savoir-faire are a gift for a vineyard.
Here, this alchemy gave a wine quite unique: the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Marcillac.
A WINE WITH A STRONG IDENTITY, A VINEYARD FROM AVEYRON
The international recognition as AOC gained since 1990 is a warrant of authenticity, a guarantee for the origin and the quality.
The red wine Marcillac is a well structured wine with full body, wild black fruit aromas such as blackberry, currant, blueberry… Lively to the taste with fine tannins, it is at its best when served around 15 degrees. The Marcillac rosé is a dense wine to drink when young and has a beautiful bright colour. To the nose, it has a fresh fruit aroma: wild strawberry, raspberry. It has a pleasant body to the mouth. On the good tables, the wines of Marcillac associate well with our regional cuisine (tripous, aligot…), enhancing the flavours of a simple and highly-seasoned cuisine. The wines of Marcillac are rich in procyadinol, a molecule protecting our arteries by removing the bad cholesterol.
THE WINE ROUTE AOP MARCILLAC
The vineyard of Marcillac was first developed by the monks of Conques more than 1000 years ago. It counts today about 200 hectares of vineyards and fifteen points of production, with about fifty wine growers who live from their passion.
These wine growers welcome you in their domain. The designation AOP benefits today from a network of information panels and road signs leading you towards the cellars of these growers, men and women driven by their passion for wine.
They invite you to follow the road signing «Route des vins» and to make a tasting stop in one of their cellars.
Going along this Route is going along the road of «savoir-faire».
The project «Route des vins de l’AOP Marcillac» was financially sponsored by the Communauté de communes Conques-Marcillac, the Conseil général de l’Aveyron, the Syndicat des Vignerons de l’AOP Marcillac, the bankCrédit Agricole Nord Midi-Pyrénées Bank and the French State and Europe with FEADER.
Our roots are deep anchored in the past and conjugate themselves in the present.
Identity and culture are rooted in a land where man was always born a wine grower. Festivities maintain centuries-old traditions with major events along the year. Folk dances, costumes and local gastronomy are honoured through parades and ceremonies supervised by the fraternities.
FÊTE DE LA SAINT-BOURROU
Each year, during the week-end of Whit, Marcillac livens up during the «Fête de la Saint-Bourrou». The « bourrou » (the vine bud in Occitan) is then celebrated, in particular on Whit-Monday with a parade until Notre-Dame de Foncourrieu. There, a mass is held for the protection of the future crop. The profane festivities follow with the acceptance speeches of new members in the fraternity called «eschansonnerie», as well as wine tasting and meeting with the wine growers. During all week-end, a traditional fair, festivities, dancing balls, concerts and meals are held.
THE WINE FAIR
Each year on the Friday before August 15th, the «Foire aux vins» of Marcillac takes place under the trees in Marcillac’s core. Ths is the occasion to meet all the AOC wine growers and discover or rediscover their savoir-faire in a friendly atmosphere.
FÊTE DU VIN DE BRUÉJOULS
During the week-end of August 15th, Bruéjouls a small village of about 200 residents becomes the theatre place of thousands of people gathering for a gigantic festival, the Wine Festival. Concerts, balls, guinguettes, meals and entertainments in the streets are planned for the occasion.
THE WINE FRATERNITIES
At the beginning, the fraternities appeared during the Middle-Ages. There were associations based on mutual help and protection within each work corporation. They also included the spiritual needs. Each of these fraternities had a patron-saint, like Saint Vincent for the vineyard… The medieval wine steward was then in charge of his landlord’s cellar and wine.
THE FRATERNITY OF THE SAINT-BOURROU
The fraternity of the Saint-Bourrou is an association, which has for objective the development and celebration of Marcillac’s wine.
The «Eschansonnerie» works for the respect of the traditions, the preservation of the heritage and regional languages as a proof of resistance and security against standardization….
The association emphasizes on the intimate link between product, country and people who live on this territory…
It enters in action during the Saint-Bourrou in Marcillac (1st week-end of June) and the celebration of the grape harvest in autumn. During these occasions, the fraternity composed of 16 members, meet together and proceed to new members’ acceptance. These members will owe to defend the value of Marcillac’s wine. In 2013, the Saint-Bourrou opened its 69th chapter with a total of 270 members.
To remember the Millennium of the vineyard of Marcillac and preserve the link with its origin, the members chose to wear the red dress, a reminder of the monk’s habit. The tasting cup or «tassou» is there an emblem. The celebrations always end with a traditional song « lou samauses », the Occitan name of the «mansois», principal grade vine of the Marcillac’s wine.
The fraternity also travels outside its boundaries to ensure the representation of this territory and its wine, with exchanges between fraternities, wine shows and participations during temporary events…
« Allez vieux fou, allez apprendre à boire on est savant quand on boit bien. Qui ne sait boire ne sait rien » — Boileau (Come one old madman, go and learn how to drink we’re smart when we know drinking. The one who doesn’t know drinking doesn’t know anything).
LES CHEVALIERS DE LA «DIVE BOUTEILLE» DE BRUÉJOULS
This fraternity of «knights» was created during the festivities of the wine celebration in Bruéjouls. Its main purpose is to promote the Marcilllac’s wine. It is named «Dive bouteille» after the author Rabelais in his famous «Gargantua»: to promote indeed, but with a full stomach and satisfied with «mansois»!
Its principal activity is held during the wine celebration in Bruéjouls, on August, when 2 or 3 applicants are enthroned new members. They’re chosen by the knights during a previous meeting or rather food gathering. Each knight may designate one applicant. The final assembly will elect the new members! The enthronement speech will present to the crowd the new knights’ life under all their angles… even the least known! And naturally, after the offering of the «tassou», the fraternity will clink glasses and invite everyone to do so with the knights!