Conques is justly ranked among the 'Most Beautiful Villages in France'. The village lies in the heart of the Dourdou valley, and for twelve centuries has protected a fabulous treasure.
The village is altogether a comely gathering of rustic stone-built and timber-framed houses roofed with lauzes (limestone slates), and, beside the 15th-century privately owned Chateau d'Humières, stand the remains of the village's fortifications and a great medieval gateway through which pilgrims traditionally came, and still do.
It is a superb setting, yet one that would have counted for nothing but for a bout of medieval skulduggery by the local abbot of. Short of cash and coveting the pilgrim-pulling relics of Sainte Foy, a 3rd-century girl martyr, housed in the abbey at Agen, the abbot despatched one of his most trusted monks to enrol as a novice there. The plan was simple: steal the relics and bring them back.
Alas, this 'Back-to-basics' plan had a flaw: ten years were to pass before the imposter monk was trusted sufficiently to be left guarding the relics. But steal them he eventually did. No sooner were the relics installed at Conques than the miracles that had made Agen prosper began. Donations rolled in, and the village suddenly became a halt on the route to Compostella from Le Puy-en-Velay, a feature that today earns the village World Heritage status.
But, even without the relics, this agreeable village would be hugely attractive both for pilgrims and serendipity-led tourists; this is a delightful labyrinth of tilted cobbled streets and alleyways where residents sell fruit and vegetables from their gardens, or tempt passers-by with delicious honey and walnut oil. Within its embrace there is a wealth of treasures: half-timbered houses, the abbey church of Sainte Foy, which dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, and especially renowned for its tympanum with 124 sculpted figures depicting the Last Judgement, but also THE treasure, that of Sainte Foy, a golden statue covered in gold and precious stones.
It's all a bit heady if you're not religious, but you don't have to go into the church, there's still plenty to see.
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