Conques Abbey visitor guide

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Conques abbey is the principal historic monument in the village of Conques, a beautiful village in the north of the Aveyron department of southern France. It is an imposing monument in the heart of the village so you will have no problem finding it!

The correct name for the abbey is the Abbatiale Sainte-Foy de Conques (abbey church of Sainte Foy).

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France This Way review: you would visit the village of Conques as you explore the region, even if there was not an abbey here - but the abbey dominates the village and is the most interesting historic monument in Conques, and a highlight of your visit

Sainte Foy is mainly known for his forgiveness towards penitent sinners, and many prisoners who prayed to Sainte Foy and were subsequently released, attributed their freedom to the Saint. They often brought their chains here as a mark of gratitude, and the metal grill that allowed access to the ambulatory was made from these chains.

cloister in the abbey at Conques

The abbey at Conques was constructed in the 11th and 12th century, and is in the roman style typical of this time. The building was started in the 11th century then the nave and choir were added in the 12th century.

There was a small chapel on the site, before the abbey was built to hold the relics of Sainte Foy - these are still held in the crypt of the church. Because of the relics of Saint Foy and the position of the abbey on one of the principal pilgrim paths to Spain, the village has long been a popular pilgrimage destination.

The architecture of the church is in a traditional latin cross shape, although the transept is significantly longer than the nave, which is rather unusual. There is an ambulatory around the choir area, and a vaulted ceiling 22 metres high, which is also unusual for churches of this period.

The numerous columns inside the abbey church have capital stones that are carved, some with dramatic demons and biblical characters, others with more simple carved foliage.

The treasury of the church includes a statue of Saint Foy, with a face carved in the 5th century and used in a jewel encrusted statue of gold and silver, from the 10th century, as well as other important artefacts. The stained glass windows in the church are by Pierre Soulages, and were added at the end of the 20th century.

Behind the church you can see a substantial part of the cloisters.

The story of how the relics of Sainte-Foy reached Conques in the 9th century is interesting. The abbey had already tried and failed to obtain the relics of Saint Vincent of Sarragossa and Saint Vincent Pompejac, then managed to install a monk from Conques in the abbey at Agen where the relics of Sainte-Foy were kept. He spent 10 years in Agen, until he had obtained a position where he could steal the relics and bring them to Conques.

 
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Tympanum and entrance of Conques abbey

The most famous, and most impressive, feature of Conques abbey is the carving of the Last Judgement above the main (west) entrance door, between two large towers.

Entire books have been written about this entrance and its many carvings, so here we can only provide a brief overview. It is first useful to recall that the purpose of such a carving was to portray the might and importance of an event from the Bible, in a way that an illiterate population could understand the message.

The tympanum is divided unto three rows, with Christ on his thrown in the centre of the middle row. The left half of the tympanum shows heaven, and the right side has scenes from hell. The top row is the angels that are announcing the Last Judgement, with two angels supporting the Cross.

In the middle row, to the left of Christ are the Virgin Mary, Saint Peter and other important personnage. To the immediate right of Christ, you can see the angels that are stopping the damned (on the far right) from reaching paradise. The damned are being tormented by demons.

In the bottom row of the tympanum, the central figure (at the top) is Saint Michael who is deciding which souls can gain access to paradise. Those who are granted access are shown passing thriough the door below Saint Michael. The left is dominated by Abraham, surrounded by other saints, while on the right you can see Satan surrounded by sinners of various describtions being tormented by demons.

Each charater in hell depicts a particular sin, depicted in a way that visitors could recognise these sins - for example there is an adulterous female tied with a cord around her neck to her lover, a slanderer, and a drunk.

tympanum of Conques abbey

Attractions nearby

Elsewhere in the village of Conques you will see lots of beautiful medieval houses, in a lovely setting surrounded by forests. Another beautiful village close to here is Belcastel, and you will also enjoy visiting the historic centre of Entraygues-sur-Truyère.

You can find more travel ideas in the Aveyron guide and the Midi-Pyrenees guide.

See also: 

Photos of Conques Abbey

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • chevet
  • cloister-2
  • cloister
  • conques (25)
  • dome
  • exterior
  • facade
  • fronton-entrance (1)
  • fronton-entrance (2)
  • fronton-entrance (3)
  • nave (1)
  • nave (2)
  • nave (3)
  • roof

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The French version of this page is at Conques Abbey (Francais)

 
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