Conques means “shell”. The town clings to one side of a rough, sheltered gorge of a tributary of the Lot. It started with hermits seeking privacy, and the spot bears no resemblance to the wide Aveyron landscape so familiar to the pilgrim to this point, and after, for that matter. The valley, just on the outskirts of Conques, is this narrow:
It wouldn’t surprise if one million people came through the “shell” in this holy year, this année jacquaire. Like medieval pilgrims, they won’t need a television.
Pilgrimage is serious business, and a large component of that is show business. The tympan at the entrance of the cathedral, the renowned Last Judgement, was for decoration, piety…and entertainment. My bet is that most eyes were trained on the horror movie to the right.
Through good luck, some of the original colours were faintly preserved, reminding us that, as with the bleached monuments of the classical world, we don’t get to see the original gooey Technicolor that was part of the amazement. Is it rash of me to suggest that the real future of art conservation lies less in the bloating of monster museums that are already like peak-hour subway stations, and more in the careful restoration of colour to our Western patrimony? How much modern architectural bleakness proceeds from wrong assumptions about the true appearance of Chartres and the Parthenon?
More colour clues inside the cathedral of Sainte-Foye:
And speaking of the interior…
Conques. Give it a whole day if you can. Share a common meal in the refectory of the abbey, soak up the benediction in the evening, hang about for the music. And stroll.