Monday, May 30, 2011

Conques; Pilgrim town

From Millau we wended our way towards the small village of Conques, a stop on the Santiago de Compostela route of pilgrimage.

As usual we passed through lots of villages, one having a grandiose calvary cross. We halted also at the city of Rodez which has an enormous cathedral in the centre. The nave and side naves are attractive though I have some doubts about the more modern glass that has been installed which bathes the church in odd colours of mauve and yellow and which in themselves have a washed out look to my mind. The rose window is lovely though.

Calvary cross, unusually ornate
Rodez cathedral rose window

Rodez cathedral
The side nave lit by the modern glass

Unusually, the modern altar was placed at the west end of the church. I guess they decided not to change the choir area when new requirements for the involvement of worshippers came in at Vatican II.
The approach to Conques lies along a tree lined valley with some gorgeous old houses and mills, including one mill which is still milling flour. Probably not using the water power however, but it is nice to see the old buildings being used for their original purpose.

The house and weir for the mill race
But don’t shoot the ducks

The village really exists for the abbey church which welcomed pilgrims. They may still stay and there are still monks, Canons of the Premonstratensian order whom we also met on our previous visit to France. So “pelerins” with cockle shells on their packs still traverse the streets. We stayed at the appropriately named Auberge St Jaques and apart from very steep stairs to our room, the place was a delight, especially the terasse where we ate both nights. Scrumptious food, the best so far in France.

Auberge St Jaques. Our room was above the terrasse
Duck breast with sour cherries

The Romanesque church of Ste Foy (or St Faith) is quite amazing, from the  detailed tympanum over the door showing the Last Judgement to the very modern glass windows, this time quite tasteful in shades of grey and white glass, by Pierre Soulanges from Rodez. I thought at first they were windows in alabaster stone. But they are glass and intended to inspire contemplation. The glass they replaced was reasonably modern and very bright, so I think the grey and white is sympathetic.

The tympanum which still retains some colour
Angels of religion and war afloat on the seas
The apse with multiple chapels and the black and white glass
The dome of the crossing
 From the apsidal chapels in the ambulatory behind the altar looking back to the entrance
Weighing of souls. I love the glare of the angel as the devil tries to tip the scales
In the triangle to the left is Ste Foy, a young woman martyred by the Romans. Below her are various groups of saints in heavenly glory
An angel in the columns of the crossing. A feature of Conques sculpture is the deeply incised eyes.
A Pierre Soulanges window
The soaring nave

Around the edge of the tympanum runs a ribbon or banner, and holding it up are tiny faces and hands called “curieux”  which I think means the curoius ones. Again, the eyes and the neat, parted hair are typical of the sculpture at Conques.

curieuxA “curieux”
A capital in the cloister

The village is sweet, very old and often medieval in construction. The whole place is regarded as an historical monument and one of the “Plus beaux villages de France”. Everything is in harmony with no obtrusive signs or anachronisms.

Street view in Conques
conquesConques from above, nestled in its valley

Next posting: On towards Cognac country.


  1. WOW!!!! what a beautiful cathederal.. the little detail is amazing.

    ps. Duck breast with cheeries = a drooling Claire. Reminds me of Olivetos for Tims birthday

  2. Actually not even a cathedral, a "collegiate" church run by a group of monks.