The Sainte-Foy abbey-church in Conques was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, in what is now Spain. Its construction was begun on the foundations of a smaller earlier basilica, directed by the abbot Odolric (1031-1065) and completed around the year 1120. It was built in Romanesque style, using a warm-colored local limestone infilled with a local gray schist. The daringly large dome that originally covered the crossing later collapsed and was replaced in the 15th century..
The main draw for medieval pilgrims at Conques were the remains of Sainte Foy, a martyred young woman from the fourth century. Her name has been assimilated into the general conception of 'Holy Faith.' 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. The church that was eventually built had a double purpose: to accommodate the flock of pilgrims and at the same time to allow a community of monks to gather for the divine office seven times a day. Thus, Sainte-Foy has been designed like a pilgrimage shrine but also as an abbey-church. To serve the inhabitants of the town, a separate parish church was erected, dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury. This smaller church is no longer standing.
In the 19th century, the author and antiquary Prosper MÃ©rimÃ©e, appointed the first Inspector of Historical Monuments, inspired thorough restorations.
The Sainte-Foy abbey-church was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998, as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. Its Romanesque architecture, albeit somewhat updated in places, is displayed in periodic self-guided tour opportunities, especially of the upper level, some of which occur at night with live music and appropriately-adjusted light levels. A particularly interesting aspect of the church is the set of carvings of the "curieux" (the curious ones) who are peeking over the edges of the tympanum arch.
The Sainte-Foy abbey-church in Conques.