THE TREASURE OF GOLDSMITH ART

This treasure stands as one of the five greatest medieval goldsmith's works of art in Europe and the sole in France to display so many elements from the High Middle Ages.

The Treasure is open every day including on Sunday (closed on December, 25th and January 1st)

- April 1st to September 30th (am) 9:30 to 12:30 and (pm) 2:00-6:30

- October 1st to March 31st: (am) 10:00-12:00 and (pm) 2:00-6:00.

It is located in the cloister area.

The Treasure of Conques is composed of many reliquaries with the famous “Majesty” of Saint Foy as its masterpiece, and unique example of reliquary statuary from the first millennium. This treasure stands as one of the five greatest medieval goldsmith's works of art in Europe and the sole in France to display so many elements from the High Middle Ages.

Fee/person: Combined entrance ticket with the Museum Joseph-Fau
6.50€ adult ; 4.50€ reduced (group, Conques guided tour ticket, student card, pilgrim credential, job seeker card, large family card ; full fee ticket entrance from Museum Soulages in Rodez and Museum Fabre in Montpellier) ; 2.50€ child (7 to 16 years) ; free (child under 7; blind visitors)

Accessibility: lift, touch booklets for visually impaired visitors

The reverence for relics

The Treasure is a witness of the worship and devotion of relics. These precious holy bodies were at the source of an abbey's development and prosperity. At that time, each sanctuary welcomed crowds of pilgrims, sharing similar fervour, in the hope of receiving Earth benefits and rewards in Heaven. What is even more astonishing is the continuous reverence of the religious relics, still as strong today.

The word Treasure not only brings to mind the material and artistic richness of gold and silver coatings decorated with filigree, antique stones, cut gem stones, pearls and enamels, above all, it stands for the religious importance given to the contents of these carefully decorated caskets.

Treasure miraculously saved

During the French Revolution, the Treasure of Conques might have been confiscated and its various pieces melted down, as was the case for the majority of other treasures. Indeed, money was needed to finance the war and to save the "endangered nation". This inestimable heritage was saved because of the courage and crafty actions of Conques' residents who hid the reliquary caskets at the end of the year 1793, in their houses and gardens and returned them later on.

Treasure appointed to the worship

Still appointed to the cult, although they became property of the municipality in 1905, these artefacts are still regularly used in the Catholic liturgy. Nowadays the “Majesty” of Saint Foy and the Procession Cross are carried in procession during the festivities of Saint Foy on October.

These goldsmith art pieces didn't just become museum artefacts, even though they are classified Historical Monuments since 1895. This is the evidence of their great heritage value and this justifies the measures taken to give access to as many people as possible who wish to admire them.

Kept in the abbey-church until 1875, the Treasure was installed in a specifically constructed south wing of the cloister in 1911. The display was totally rethought in 1953-1955.

The renovation of the year 2002 respected the general organization of six windowed display cases, regrouping objects into a chronological and thematic order to reflect the history of the Abbey.

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Saint Foy in Majesty

The “Majesty” of Saint Foy crowned and sitting on a throne is displayed in a rotunda. By its structure, it could remind one of a pagan temple as well as a church apse or a kind of throne room.

This art piece dating from the 9th to the 10th century and charged with an exceptional historical and artistic interest shelters a sacred relic, Saint Foy's skullcap. She was an adolescent Christian girl martyred in Agen in 303 A.D. Her remains were brought to Conques in a "furtive transfer" in 866.

statue-reliquary…

This statue stands as an astonishing work of art for its antiquity, making, style and symbolism. The modelling is quite surprising. The body is disproportionate with large head, hands and feet. The facial expression is severe and haughty marked by large blue eyes and a chin held high. The gleaming gold, the gems and the enamels give an odd feeling that often leads to think this reliquary to be something more like an idol. It shows in fact Saint Foy interceding for the pilgrims who pray to her.

… covered with gold, silver and gems

Crudely carved from yew wood, the statue stops at the neck where is fitted the gold hollowed head, cut from an antique bust (4th-5th century).

The covering of gold, engraved with small flowers (9th century) has been embellished over time. The oldest pieces are the bands around the collar, the sleeves and the dress edges (10th century). They include numerous intaglios carved with pagan motifs. The crown is adorned with cloisonné-enamel in gold (10th century). The gilded and silver throne has similar Pre-Romanesque bands, but the balls of rock crystal are Gothic in style. The arms and hands were refashioned during the 16th century and their original position is unknown.

“A” reputed ‘Charlemagne’ example

According to the legend, Charlemagne as founder of many abbeys sent a reliquary in the shape of a letter to all of them. Conques received the letter A ranking it first among the chosen monasteries. In fact, an inscription indicates that Abbot Begon the 3rd (1087-1107) ordered its creation. With it, he was certainly recognizing a very ancient tradition.

On the back side, a marvellous composition can be admired, an ensemble of filigree and enamelled settings encircling an intaglio on a carnelian, representing a winged Victoria writing on a shield.

Shrine known as ‘from Pepin’

Re-modelled on several occasions, this small reliquary has a collection of 9th-11th century pieces with additions made during the 12th, 13th and 16th centuries.

Some of the most precious artefacts are the translucent red or green enamels on a gilded background, dating from Carolingian times. On the reverse side are other opaque enamels, blue, white and red, with bird wings in cloisonné. They date from the 11th century.

It is also worth noting the abundance of filigree and the arcades mounted with bands of gems, not forgetting the antique carnelian intaglio representing Apollo.

The portable altars

The portable altars contain consecrated objects and were small enough to be carried by travelling monks to celebrate mass outside the usual location.

The portable altar of the Abbot Begon

On the porphyry plaque edges, a long silver-engraved inscription embellished with niello indicates the precise date on which Pons, bishop of Barbastro (Spain), gave this altar to Abbot Begon the 3rd. It shelters relics of the Cross and the tomb of Christ.

The busts of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Foy, nineteen other saints, apostles, evangelists and martyrs appear engraved on the sides. 

The portable altar of Saint Foy

This object doesn't bear Begon's name, but has always been attributed to his workshop (c.1100).
It probably comes from a Gospel book binding, which Begon the 3rd ordered for Conques and later on transformed into a portable altar. The alabaster plaque and the embossed gilded-plate band date from the 14th century.

It is decorated with ten figures set on copper-cloisonné enamelled medallions. A new and original technique of setting was used here, by placing the plaques one on top of the other. The style of faces and halos are quite similar to the 11th century Aquitaine art.

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The reliquary known as “Lantern of Begon”

The Latin inscription made of large readable letters encircling the base of the roof of this small structure (in truth, not a lantern) tells us that Abbot Begon the 3rd (1087-1107) ordered this art piece.

This reliquary shaped like an ancient mausoleum is decorated with figurative medallions exalting the triumph of Christ over Evil and Death (divine Majesties). The most beautiful is the one representing David victorious over the lion. It is also the most recent (second half of 12th century).

THE RELIQUARY ATTRIBUTED TO Pope Pascal II

The inscription set at the base indicates that Abbot Begon the 3rd ordered this work of art and that Pope Pascal the 2nd sent the relics from Christ and some saints from Rome in 1100.

Apart from the pieces from other eras, the beautiful scene of the Crucifixion testifies to the high artistic level obtained by Conques workshop.

Chest-reliquary “from the Abbot Boniface”

A reliquary discovered by chance in 1875

Discovered in 1875 during the demolition of a wall built around the choir at the end of the 16th century, this casket was restored in 1878 by Poussielgue-Rusand, who made some medallions to replace the missing ones.

A reference for the art of champlevé enamel

This wooden chest covered with silver-studded leather is adorned with thirty-one enamelled medallions and is dating from the time of Abbot Boniface (c. 1110-1130) according to the engraving on one medallion. The chest contains many large bones of Saint Foy.

The decoration of griffins and birds is as remarkable as the technique employed, champlevé enamels on gilded copper.

This is a work of major importance in the history of medieval enamelling allowing it to be dated and to localize the passing from one technique to another, cloisonné to champlevé.

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… AND SO MANY OTHER PRECIOUS ART PIECES

  • Hexagonal Reliquary

    This composition made of elements from different times dates from the 7th to the 12th century.

    The rectangular Merovingian cloisonné gold plates are set beside a central jewel encircled by a cloisonné circle from the same period. Siler plates engraved on niello surround it and are dated from the 8th century or early 9th century. Large cabochons trim the bottom; it dates from the end of the 9th century. 

  • Pentagonal Reliquary

    This late composition of the 16th century is made with fragments of gold and silver pieces from various periods dating between the 7th and 13th centuries. The oldest are the 7th century cloisonné plate and the 9th century silver-gilt pieces surrounded with embossed foliage.

  • Virgin Mary and Child

    On her shoulders, enamelled escutcheons carry an unidentified Seigniorial Coat of Arms, probably the donors.
    In the folds of the clothes, the hallmark of a goldsmith from the end of the 13th century can be seen.

     

  • Triptych-reliquary

    This reliquary is a threefold panel, from the second half of the 13th century, with numerous individually set reliquaries, inscribed with saints' names.  The one from Saint James can be noticed at the top of the central panel.

  • Arm-reliquary of Saint George

    This "Saint George" was a monk from Conques, who became Lodeve Bishop in 877. His right arm is mentioned on a list of relics established in the 17th century. The hand adopts the blessing gesture according to the western manner. Christ on the Cross is represented in a Gothic style at the bottom of the sleeve (end of 13th century to early 14th century). 

     

  • Statuette of Saint Foy

    Entirely covered in silver and partly gilded, this piece of art carries the hallmarks of the goldsmith Pierre Frechrieu and of the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. The reliquary is dated very exactly from 1493 to 1494. The iconography recalls the martyr of the young saint: the palm-leaf, sign of God’s chosen ones, the grill and the sword, instruments of her Passion.

  • The Book of the miracles of Saint Foy

    Written on parchment and dating from the 11th century, it was partially composed by Bernard, a school master at Angers cathedral, in 1013, on his return journey from Conques. He describes the Pre-Romanesque church, the Majesty worshipped like an icon and other reliquaries. It tells the numerous miracles related to the cult of the relics.

 

 

The Treasure displays other religious artefacts of lesser artistic interest, but of great importance for the history of Conques after the period of Romanesque magnificence: reliquary-busts, a carved copper cross, incense-burners, a copper host box, pewter burettes, a lead plaque, seal matrices, manuscripts and so on...

 

 

The Museum Joseph-Fau

Set in a former house located near the Plò fountain, below the church square, this museum shelters a rich collection of sculptures (capitals, statues...) and artefacts coming from the abbey and displayed on different floors.

A single ticket allows the visit of both the Treasure and the Museum, open at the same hours.

On the ground floor

The visitor can discover high quality painted and gilded wooden statues (15th to 17th century): Annunciation, Virgin and Child, Christ from a Holy Sepulchre, Saint Dominic, Saint Marcel, etc…; a choir lectern (17th century), a painting representing Saint Roch realized in 1843 by Delmas. The interest of this painting comes from the representation of Saint-Foy Abbey-church in the background, without its two front towers.

On the first floor

Elements of furniture and decoration dating from the 17th and 18th centuries are displayed in different rooms: an imposing chasuble cupboard with exotic motives carved on the doors, wooden elements of a chimney cover with paintings on canvas, chests, tables, a canopy bed made of elements from former altar-pieces (a 1644 panel carries Guillaume Chirac's signature, a master carpenter from Conques).

The major masterpieces are the seven tapestries made circa 1634 by Felletin workshops (in the former province of Haute-Marche). They represent the life of Mary-Magdalene and were originally decorations for the Abbey chapter house.

In the basement

The basement room displays Romanesque capitals and abacuses (11th-12th centuries) coming from the former cloister, lapidary inscriptions and various elements from the original Romanesque church pavement, quite intriguing with its marble and porphyry inlays, and a much older element from the 10th century church, a chancel-screen fragment, etc...

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