On the 9th day of my journey we arrived at Conques (see 1st photo). Really I wanted to stay with the monks in the abbey of Sainte-Foy, but Thierry (he was bi-polar) said he felt uncomfortable with a large group of people, so we passed the night in the gîte municipal. The only other occupant was Jean-Claude, a French cyclist. He gave us a short history of this perfectly preserved medieval village (see 2nd photo), one of the loveliest villages in the whole of south-west France.
Conques clings to a hillside above the wooded gorge of the Dourdou river, a tributary of the Lot. In 819 AD (the same year as the relics of St James were discovered in Santiago) a hermit called Dadon founded the first religious community here. Later a monk from Conques stole from a nearby monastery the relics of a martyred young woman, Sainte Foy, with the idea of attracting travellers and therefore wealth to the new abbey being built at Conques.
The abbey was constructed by monks using the local limestone between the 10th and the 12th centuries. It was enlarged and extended to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims for whom Conques was an important halt on the way to Compostela. Its church and cloisters are among the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture anywhere.
In the 16th century the monastery was set on fire and left partially ruined by the Protestants. 3 hundred years passed. Then in 1838 the whole village was declared a historic monument, and by the end of the 19th century Prosper Mérimée (author of the story Carmen which inspired Bizet's opera) was appointed the 1st Inspector of Historic Monuments and began the abbey's restoration.
Today only residential traffic is allowed in the medieval streets, so most visitors enter on foot. Not to be missed is the impressive 12th century tympanum over the west door of the abbey-church, depicting the Last Judgement with 124 carved figures (see 3rd photo), and the treasury-museum which contains many priceless gold artefacts and holy relics.