None of it is really above board…
Here, dominating the village of Conques, is the abbey church of Sainte-Foye.
And here’s the abbey accommodation, where, like countless pilgrims before me, I dined in a great hall with monks and hospitaliers, and stayed two nights. (I’m a rest-day kind of guy.)
Conques is professional.
The prémontrés, the order now in charge of the abbey, are involved and entertaining; ceremonies such as the benediction of the pilgrims are performed with familiar ease and yet also with drama; the reception of even the humblest and muddiest pilgrims by hospitaliers is never off-handed.
Yet it all started with a theft. Nothing much was happening in Conques till an enterprising monk stole the relics of little Sainte-Foye from another abbey and took them back to Conques. Or so they say. In any case, the public loved it all – Conques, the theft, and little Sainte-Foye.
There are a number of stories about Sainte-Foye’s martyrdom, but the priest at Conques told me what must have been the true one. It happened in Agen, where they grow the prunes, so there’s no blaming regularity problems. The Romans were bullying a Christian girl into sacrificing to the Roman gods. The girl would not be persuaded. She was even offered a new Game Boy, according to our prémontré. Still Sainte-Foye wouldn’t yield, so they executed her. Teenagers!
Her reliquary, a very elaborate affair, can be seen in a museum out the back of the abbey. She was such hot property that they split her up and sent bits to other monasteries, who certainly did not waste their portions of the saint. Re-use, recycle!
Some droopy-drawers atheist like Richard Dawkins would have a field-day with this stuff. (So would Christopher Hitchens, but he’d at least be witty in slicing us up.)
I can’t get into the reasons for and against faith. I fell asleep at the first Thomistic proof. Chesterton says it best for me:
Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells
us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.
Atheists are not above belief. In fact, they tend to be soft-headed, like Dawkins, embracing fad philosophies clad in the faintest veneer of science, spooked by every fashionable terror.
So I just follow what’s prettiest.