Villiage Conques, Midi-Pyrenees, France 

Surrounded by legend, Conques’ history can only be seen through the many marvels that have accompanied its creation and development, from the arrival of Saint Foy’s relics with the monk Arionisde in 866, to the supernatural healing of Guibert “who had had his eyes gouged out” in around 985. Between these two dates, innumerable miracles, less blatant but just as apparent, had revealed the divine protection that the village enjoyed, thanks to the saint’s relics of which it was the trustee and guardian.

Conques was built around a primitive oratory that became a Benedictine monastery, then one of the main halts on the route to Compostela, and shone throughout Christendom until the 13th Century, when the first portents of moral and spiritual decadence began to appear. This twilight was the consequence of the material prosperity and political power that were enjoyed by the monks, who were gradually dazzled by earthly goods. It was already significant at a time when King François Ist had agreed to the secularisation of monks.

The wars of religion turned these violations into a veritable collapse, and the ruin was consummated when the Protestants, in 1568, tried to set fire to the basilica. But this, in its turn, was miraculously saved. Abandoned after the Revolution and destined for imminent destruction, it was rediscovered by Prosper Mérimée, who, in 1833, had been appointed as Inspector-General of Historic Monuments. An artist as well as a civil servant, he recognised the building’s exceptional purity when he visited it in 1837 and released the initial funds required for its restoration.

The restoration works continued for over a century, until 2000, and the building was given new stained glass windows designed, drawn and installed after some extremely complex research work by the world-famous Rouergue artist Soulages. This renovation, in the precise meaning of the word, restored a level of light to the basilica that is as its initial builders intended it to be.

This light has revealed the exceptional beauty of a building that is perfect in terms of its balanced dimensions and remarkable for the extraordinary tympanum over the entrance porch, in which over a hundred figures take part in the tragedy of the Last Judgement and which testifies to the perfection that the great medieval artists achieved.

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