The last day and we’re off to Conques

Another sign on the outskirts of Esperyac and another morning yet again shrouded in mist. By now we were used to the pattern and although the fleece was useful in the first place to keep the cool out, we knew that a few hours later we were likely to be back in shorts and T shirts.

Firstly breakfast…….on a Sunday in France it’s not at all unusual to get more of a treat and that can be anything from a wider choice to croissants and pastries. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised, given the night before, to find no-one around and last night’s stale bread and undrinkable coffee for breakfast. We ate little and on leaving headed to the shop across the way to pick up fresh bread for lunch and a couple of pastries as a treat to ourselves. 

While in there, the male personage of our hosts arrived to buy himself and his wife some nice treats, he was rather embarrased to be greeted by us and scuttled away. We felt good!

Our first stop of the day was in Senergues with the lovely church of St Martin whose stained glass windows were so modern and very colourful and where there was a statue of St Roch on the back wall. We stopped there to have a break, visit the church and use the loo which was huge and so very tidy. 

The village was just becoming awake with people appearing to have coffee.

Love this photo taken from the next part of the walk as we left the village behind and continued the trek upwards.

It was a short day today just over 8 miles in length and Teresa and I were so looking forward to havimng most of the afternoon to explore Conques. Although knowing very little about it, we had heard it was very old so we had googled it and were full of anticipation. The photos we came across looked stunning!

At this stage of the morning though the fresh bread and treats were weighing upon us and in the next hamlet, Fontromieu, it was time for our  proper breakfast, denied us in Esperyac. All this was accompanied as you can see by a variety of the local ‘wildlife’

It was great to realise within a few minutes of leaving our lunch spot that Conques wasn’t far away.

Excited, we set off, down this time and wondering when we’d come across this magical place. ou do indeed arrive after walking through fields and woodland and for a while you wonder when on earth you are going to see it and then the medieval quarter which is indeed most of Conques appears. When I’d seen the photos, I believed that these medieval streets were a small part of the town and that the rest would be more modern, but no. It’s rather like a film set. It’s exquisite.

In the photo, Teresa is standing at the point I believe we could see the Abbey for the first time and where you really start to walk through the perfectly preserved and restored narrow streets of this wonderful place.

We were oohing and aahing all over the place as we tramped over the cobbles heading forever down.

The following is taken from a variety of the wonderful sites I have found as why try to rewrite what someone has captured already - 

“The village is located at the confluence of the Dourdou and Ouche rivers. It is built on a hillside and has classic narrow Medieval streets. As a result, large vehicles (such as buses) cannot enter the historic town centre but must park outside. Consequently, most day visitors enter on foot and, as at least one overnight visitor has observed, the majority of the tourists depart in the late afternoon, leaving the town much less crowded. The town was largely passed by in the nineteenth century, and was saved from oblivion by the efforts of a small number of dedicated people. As a result, the historic core of the town has very little construction dating from between 1800 and 1950, leaving the medieval structures remarkably intact. The roads have been paved, and modern-day utility lines are buried.”

This was our first site of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy and Conques is here because of the Abbey and it being a
popular stop for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

The construction of this church was begun on the foundations of a smaller earlier bascilica directed by the abbot Odolric (1031–1065) and completed around the year 1120. It was built using a warm-coloured local limestone and using a Romanesque style and the original dome collapsed and was  replaced in the 15th century..

What drew the pilgrims were the remains of Sainte Foy a young woman from the fourth century, martyred in AD303 and famous for her ability to cure eye disorders..

The story is told that in the late 9th century, a monk from Conques allegedly stole these relics from a nearby monastery in order to draw travellers (and wealth) to Conques.

By now we’d had our first wander through and had seen our hotel but lunch was calling so we found some stone steps with great views and ate. It was here that we got talking to a couple about the Camino. They had walked the entire route, twice. Once starting in Le Puy like us and the second times from Arles in the south near where they live. On both occasions they’d so enjoyed it and were keen to point out that the next section would take us down to the river and then up to the small chapel of Sainte Foy, just visible through the wooded slope where we could ring the bell. That image stayed with us for months till we next returned.

We’d passed signs on the way through and it soon became clear that there was a design for these.

This final sign names one of the residences and the significence is that it was a hermit called Dadon who settled here in the 8th century, and soon attracted a group of Benedictine monks to his side. Conques has its origins, in pilgrims.

Our hotel was the Sainte Jacques so we went to book in, rather worried initially to find no record of the booking but thankfully that was resolved and we were shown to the 2nd floor. Climbing up these rickety and uneven stairs with heavy bags was a bit of a challenge, remind me not to try to do this when drunk!

Our little room and bathroom gave us wonderful views. From the bedroom , we looked out on the Abbey and from the bathroom window we could see that little chapel high up the wooded slope, a constant reminder of where we were going next.

Beers were starting to call but we decided to explore the Abbey itself first as we would have little time the following morning to do everything.

The tympanum (carved ‘picture’ above the main doorway) as seen in this photo, is of the Last Judgement is considered to be one of the major art works of the 12th century. There are 124 figures in the carvings many depicting your ghoulish fate if you are unlucky enough to go to hell! Surrounding the main carving are a few figures known as ‘the curious ones’ who look like little children peeking out from under a blanket at the scenes below.

The Abbey was in part destroyed in the 16th century during Protestant uprisings, and has been subject to extensive renovations during the past 125 years. In 1994 all the windows were replaced with windows designed by the contemporary painter Pierre Soulages. Each window has a different pattern but all are in shades of grey. The effect is stylish though very sombre, especially on a night. When the sunshine moves around the building lighting up different windows the effect is quite dramatic.

In the 13th century Conques had 3000 inhabitants, hard to believe now and was a bigger and more important town than Rodez where we flew into to get here.

Now we could relax and then shower and change before dinner.


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