The village of Conques in Aveyron, France, has been a target of pilgrimage since medieval times, lying as it does on the route from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The isolated position of Conques in hilly terrain means that it has never been subject to much modern development, so the medieval streets are essentially as they were.
This view is the first the pilgrim coming from Estaing sees of Conques, nestling in the treed valley. We were lucky on our recent visit when, after a day of rain, the sun came out as we reached Conques. The dramatic welcome became spectacular when this rainbow appeared over the village.
Pilgrims head for the fine Romanesque abbey church of Sainte Foy (St. Faith). I particularly like the sculptures of The Last Judgement on the tympanum over the main doorway. I remember Alf, nearly 30 years ago, educating me on the significance of these finely sculpted figures. Those to Christ’s right are going to heaven and those to his left to hell. The message for the pilgrim was clear.
The separate treasury now displays the superb golden reliquary with remains of Sainte Foy, plus other medieval masterpieces including the famous ‘A’ of Charlemagne. It is said that the relics were in fact stolen by the monks of Conques in 866 from their original location at Agen (between Bordeaux and Toulouse) where the saint had been martyred in 303. This ensured the future of Conques as a prosperous centre of pilgrimage.
This unsavoury start does not seem to have affected the atmosphere of Conques, which is a very special place if approached in the spirit of pilgrimage.