Sainte-Foy at Conques

Date: late eleventh century (architecture), twelfth century (portal sculpture), ninth to eleventh century ("Majesty" reliquary)
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): France
Dimensions: "Majesty" reliquary 85 cm tall
Description: The abbey at Conques, in southern France, was dedicated to Sainte-Foy (St. Faith) in the ninth century after its monks obtained a relic of her skull from another monastery. The relic was inserted into a bust reliquary that was later enlarged into an enthroned figure of the saint. This "Majesty," an early example of the revival of figural sculpture in Europe after an absence of half a millennium, combined old and new materials and was said to perform miracles. These miracles inspired visits and donations to the statue and the church, and the latter was rebuilt in the late eleventh century.

In plan Conques is a typical "pilgrimage church," a basilica in which the aisles continue around the transepts and apse to facilitate circulation. Protruding from the east end are additional chapels that contain altars and more relics. The two-story round-arched cnave arcade carries a tall ribbed barrel vault.

The Conques church was adorned with carved capitals and, in the twelfth century, with portal sculpture. The tympanum of the west door depicts the Last Judgment in colorful relief: the saved, including Foy herself, are shown to Christ's right (the viewers' left) while the damned are being tortured to his left. Latin inscriptions also warn viewers about proper behavior. Church portals were an important place for such messages because they mark a transition from secular to sacred space, and Christ himself had declared "I am the gate" (John 19:9).
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 5, 6, 7
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons; Navid Jamali

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