In the department of Aveyron, the village of Conques is embedded in an admirable site shaped like a “conque” (from the Latin concha, a shell, and in Occitan conca) chosen by the hermit Dadon to retreat from the world in the 8th century.


The Lot, the Dourdou Rivers and their tributaries nestled inside a wavy table of schistose and granitic rocks open up a network of deep and convolute valleys shaping the Segala of Conques. Here, the gorges are cut deeply by the Ouche torrent that flows into the Dourdou in an angle. They widen slightly and outline some sort of a cirque or conque, which indents the horizontal plateau. It is a true relief of hollows. The steep escarpments, the rocky outcrops and the dark spots of the chestnut trees generate a landscape full of severity and majesty.

Many travellers are struck by the wild aspect of Conques' environment. That was the case for the writer Prosper Mérimée in 1837, then inspector for the Historical Monuments. He admitted not being prepared to find so many treasures in such a remote place. Yet, these natural surroundings were originally well chosen and they presented many climatic advantages. The abbey and the town were set on the sunny slopes, sheltered from the northern winds, perched high enough to escape humidity and the thick fog ascending from the valley. The numerous springs provided the water necessary to sustain life.

Monuments and site Protection & Labels

St. Foy Abbey-church and the pilgrims' bridge, both historical monuments (Monuments historiques), are registered in the World Heritage of Humanity list by the UNESCO for the Route to Santiago de Compostela in France.

Since 1982 Conques is classified among the most beautiful villages of France (Plus Beaux Villages de France).

In 2009 Conques became a Great Site of Midi-Pyrénées (Grand Site Midi-Pyrénées) then of Occitanie (Grand Site Occitanie) in 2017.

The site in a whole benefits a protection under the category of registered sites, because of its natural preserved environment. A current procedure is allowing the reinforcement of this protection, with a registration of the site according to the Law of 1930, before obtaining the label Grand Site de France.

The origin of the Abbey (8th-9th century)

Conques owes its origins to a hermit. A man named Dadon retired in this then wild place at the end of the 8th century, in the aim of living a contemplative life.  Other men full of piety joined him. The pious community kept growing in number and a first church dedicated to the St. Savour was built. The monastery adopted the rule of St. Benedict.


This was the time when the Carolingian sovereigns chose to favour and shower with benefits the monasteries within their empire, for political as much as religious reasons. Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, under Charlemagne's reign, would have paid many visits and placed the monastery under his powerful influence, officially naming it "Conques". In 819, he donated no less than ten pieces of lands in its favour. Twenty years later, Pepin the 2nd, king of Aquitaine, gifted Figeac to Conques where many monks took residence. Gold and silver were added to this donation as well as precious clothes, intaglios and antique cameos. They are the origins of Conques' Treasure.

But the collective memory would only remember the name of Charlemagne, the benefactor par excellence, forgetting his other family members. Furthermore of course, centuries later he would get his own representation on the Tympanum of the Last Judgment of the Romanesque abbey-church, among the procession of the Elected.

The “furtive transfer” of the relics of Saint Foy (around 866)

Curiously the destiny of Conques was sealed at the time of the Roman emperor Diocletian, during the great persecution of Christians of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century. Far from here, a young girl of the city of Agen named Foy (Fides en Latin) converted to Christianity by Caprais, bishop of the city, refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and endured for such the martyrdom, at the young age of twelve.

During the 9th century, at a time when the importance of relics grew dramatically and when the presence of a holy body lead to a huge spiritual impact for an abbey holding them, Conques was oddly left out. This was the time when Conques' monks, after fruitless attempts to obtain relics, turned their attention to the holy relics of Saint Foy from Agen, which were well revered in Aquitaine. Their "abduction", called a "furtive transfer", took place around 866.

Conques: a pilgrimage sanctuary dedicated to Saint Foy (from the 10th century)

The arrival of Saint Foy's relics in their new home, where they would later on perform miracles for the blinds and the prisoners in particular, drew crowds of pilgrims from all over France coming to ask for special benefits. For the abbey, this situation meant a new birth. Construction works would go on for three centuries without interruption, providing prosperity to the area. During the 9th and 10th centuries, the expansion permitted the emergence of the first pieces of art, including the famous statue-reliquary of Saint Foy. It was prayed by worshipers and set in the three-naved church preceded by a bell porch.

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Up to then, the devotion to Saint Foy was limited to Rouergue and the neighbouring regions, but spread rapidly all over the Christian world, supported by the pilgrims' worship and boosted by a major piece of literature from the early 11th century, the Book of the Miracles of Saint Foy, written by Bernard, a master in Angers Cathedral School.

By then, Conques monastery was holding numerous lands and priories within a radius of twenty kilometres and attracted an important urban population thatsettled close by. Conques kept on spreading his influence and acquired possessions in Rouergue and all over the Western Christian world, from Saint-Foy in Cavagnolo in Piemont, Horsham in England, Selestat or even Bamberg in the German world and as far as Catalonia and Navarra.

The Abbey Cartulary, a manuscript from the 12th century listing donations, is a witness to the creation of a true monastic empire for three centuries, an empire powerful enough to be kept out of the influence of Cluny that overlooked most of the great Benedictine abbeys, such as Saint-Geraud in Aurillac or Saint-Pierre in Moissac. More still, Conques was a rival of Cluny during the Spanish Reconquista against the Muslims, founding churches or designating bishops for the new dioceses of Aragon and Navarra.


At the same time, the tomb of the apostle James in Compostela became a pilgrimage site, surpassing the other great pilgrimages of the Christian world. The well-known miracles of Saint Foy were strong enough to bring Conques into the high lights and to be chosen as a major town-relay, set on one of the four main routes, the one starting from Le-Puy-en-Velay.

Such pilgrimage with its loads of donations and offerings alike brought power and prosperity to Conques’ abbey and was the ideal condition for its artistic influence.


Conques great era,  from the mid-11th century until the first third of the 12th, relates to the period of construction of the abbey-church. Saint-Foy monastery reached its peak under the impulse of Abbot Begon III (1087-1107).

The great building site of the Abbey (11th and 12th centuries)

Abbot Begon, while pursuing the work in the new church started by his predecessors Odolric (before 1031-1065) and Etienne II (1065-1087), also started the reconstruction of the monastic buildings and the cloister due to the increasing number of monks. Conques was turning into a huge construction site. Abbot Begon, under his direction, commanded "the insertion of gold into many relics" and the making of some of the most beautiful pieces of the Treasure by the goldsmith and enamel workshops. At the same time, a monastic school with its library and scriptorium was proved to have existed.

The birth of a town (from the 11th century)

While the ecclesiastic community expanded, a lay community composed of merchants and tradesmen gathered around it, freeing themselves progressively from the religious authority. The early presence of four conciliation board members in Conques, already named "consuls" (cosols in Occitan), is attested in a document dating from the first ten years of the 13th century. A consulate was born and its influence in the economy in particular would rise in the future.

Already, at the dawn of the year Thousand, the Book of Miracles of Saint Foy revealed the existence of an "important city resting on the hill above the monastery".

A prosperous medieval monastic borough

It is on the sunny slopes dominating the abbey that a true city developed, protected by surrounding walls of ramparts, pierced by fortified gates and reinforced with towers on their flanks. A network of narrow streets, a few of them cobbled, led to the sanctuary and different dwelling areas. Despite the steep gradient, many fountains provided water to the residents and a medieval market hall made up the heart of the economic trade.

Outside the walls, a single borough developed with a concentration of workshops (mills and tanneries on the Ouche and Dourdou embankments) and craftsmen shops such as cloth makers, tailors and shoemakers, in particular.

During its heyday, in the 12th century, the exact number of inhabitants is uncertain. However, in 1341, Conques still counted 730 hearths (which meant an extended household, according to historian demographers) amounting to about 3000 inhabitants, ranking Conques in the 7th position among the cities of the Rouergue. It was not a simple village, but a truly urban area directed by four consuls yearly elected by the residents.

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The monastery secularization in 1537 didn't put a radical halt to the city prosperity. On the contrary, the new community of canons under the Rules of Saint Augustine had substantial means and was part of an elitist clientele for the local merchants and tradesmen. Many of these canons fled the austerity of the monastery to live in luxurious private residences. But times of disaster and misery would soon strike.

A succession of disasters

The blaze started by the Huguenots in 1568, which damaged part of the church and the cloister, was followed by successive episodes of epidemics and famines. The plague of 1628 was particularly deadly. The residents, in panic, took refuge in the secados (little buildings where chestnuts were dried) deep in the woods. These episodes were followed by disastrous harvests, leading to a new wave of mortality, such as during the years 1693-1694 as was noted in the parish registry. The canons had to rescue the hungry population with a free distribution of beans.

Conques had a hard time rising back from these calamities. On mid-18th century, the population added up to less than a thousand. On the eve of the 1789 Revolution, only six hundred and thirty souls were accounted for.

A starving population

The peasants and the wine growers constituted with the beggars the majority of Conques population. 

In 1771, the local priest answered a survey ordered by His Lordship Champion de Cicé related to the diocese living conditions: "There is no trade because of lack of suitable roads... The two third of the families spend most of their days without any bread... There are about eighty-four disabled persons, counting many children and one hundred beggars in the parish".

The decay arrives with the Revolution

This situation worsened more during the Revolution years. The decree from the National Constituent Assembly suppressing the religious orders in France hit the city hard, as it caused the closing of the monastery and the dispersion of the canons. The loss was irreparable as the canons were in charge of the abbey maintenance and were managing Saint-Foy hospital that welcomed the destitutes.

The municipality newly elected now responsible for all these expenses was overwhelmed and could not face the burden, for it had insufficient financial means.

The downfall sped up with the 19th century and Conques fell to the simple rank of a village.

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An exceptional event occurred: the visit in 1836 of the writer Prosper Mérimée, inspector in charge for the Historical Monuments. He brought to the attention of the government authorities the state of dilapidation in which stood the Romanesque Abbey-church. His journey of inspection carried out during a tour of Auvergne is at the origin of the rediscovery, the study and the conservation of the medieval heritage.

From now on, this major monument of western architecture classified among the Historical Monuments would benefit from a particular attention and public grants for its restoration. To the global awakening of the successive political governments were added the local religious authorities involvment, amongst whom was the emblematic figure of Cardinal Bourret, the diocese bishop. He favoured the coming in 1873 of a new clerical community belonging to the order of St-Norbert (Prémontré) and who were in charge of reviving the spirituality of the place, while resuming the traditional pilgrimage to Saint Foy.