UNESCO, Grand Site de France
Visitor's Rating: (3.5 out of 4/Number of Votes:2)
The village of Conques is nowadays listed as a "Grand Site de France". Its abbey together with the other sites on the road to Saint James de Compostelle is recorded in the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
The abbey of Conques is dedicated to Sainte Foy and once housed this saint's relics - now exposed in the treasure next to the ancient cloister.
Saint Foy - or Sainte Fides - was born in Agen in 290 AD. Being raised by a Christian nurse she became a believer and was baptized in the Christian religion by Caprais - who later became Saint Caprais - the then bishop of Agen. At only 13 years of age she died - together with Caprais - a martyr's death for not renouncing her faith, on the 6th of October 303 AD (day celebrated since then as Sainte Foy), during Christian persecutions under the Roman emperor Maximian.
The relics of Sainte Foy were initially kept in Agen but later in 866 AD were brought to Conques. It is not known exactly how or why they were moved but most probably it was as a precaution taken during the Norman invasion of Agen's region (some legends say that they were stolen by a monk in order to give Conques the prestige of having famous relics).
The little village of Conques - population just around 300 - was formed about the 10th century AD around the Benedictine abbey of Sainte Foy. The history of this little village hanging from a cliff above Dourdou River and its famous abbey were and are to this day interlaced.
In the early years of the Christian era Conques, whose name comes from Occitan concha - shell, was a hermitage inhabited by a monk called Dadon. Little by little more religious moved to the area and around the 8th century they formed a Benedictine monastery dedicated to the "Holy Savior". The Benedictine monks were in habit of welcoming a community of laymen around their monastery and this way a village is formed.
The fame of the monastic community's devotion spread so that it reached the ears of king Louis the Pious - son of Charlemagne - who made several land donation to it. In 866 when the holy remains of Sainte Foy arrived at Conques the abbey changed its name and became a pilgrimage place where a growing number of pilgrims were coming to venerate the relics. It is around this time that the famous statue of Sainte Foy with gold and precious stones is created (it is now exposed in the treasure).
Faced with a growing influx of religious travelers the monk community starts an expansion work on the monastery, work that will last uninterrupted for 3 centuries.
Starting in the 11th century when the pilgrimage to Saint James de Compostelle intensifies Conques becomes a stop on the road called "via podensis" that was taking the pilgrims to Spain.
At its highest times in the 14th century Conques numbers as many as 3000 inhabitants all living more or less from activities brought about by the monastery and the pilgrimage: wax tappers confection and commerce, food and accommodation for the travelers etc.
The Romanesque style abbey that can be seen today was built between the middle of the 11th century and the first quarter of the 12th century. Its layout was specifically designed to allow the flow of a great number of pilgrims towards the chancel were the holy relics were exposed.
One of its most dazzling features is the thympanum - a 6.75 meters (~22feet) large and 3.62 meters (~12 feet) high bas-relief above the main entrance - depicting scenes from the Last Judgment.
Throughout the centuries the church underwent a series of modifications like in the 15th century when a new cupola in Gothic style was built or in the 19th century when it was restored after years of neglect, following the French revolution, on the order of Prosper Mérimée - the then inspector general of the monuments in France.
it is a very intereting village and the tresure is marvellous.
Steep hike to visit the village, but worth the effort.
Arguably the most interesting village is the region. I found the access to be quite difficult (and there is no public transportation which is a shame!!!)