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Abbey of St. Foy is longtime medieval pilgrimage route

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Abbey of St. Foy, nestled in the hills of southern France is a beautiful Romanesque church perfectly aligned with its surroundings. The tiny village of Conque that surrounds the abbey echoes its pointed towers in the surrounding architecture. The abbey is also the only medieval shrine on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela that survives intact.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Parts of the medieval walls still survive, along with three of its gates. The houses date from the late Middle Ages and are divided by cobbled lanes and stairways that are a pleasure to wander. The abbey's fortress-like facade overlooks a small cobbled square beside the tourist office and pilgrims' fountain and is surrounded by terraced gardens.

The most notable feature on the exterior of what is an otherwise plain church is a large Romanesque carving of the Last Judgment in the tympanum over the main doors. Sculpted between 1107 and 1125, under Abbot Boniface, the scene is full of activity, expression and detail. Some of the original paint remains. Many of the figures are contemporary historical persons, including specific abbots, bishops and kings - several of who appear to be cast into the fiery pit!

Christ in Majesty presides over the scene in the center, while the Archangel Michael and a demon weigh the souls of the dead on scales at his feet.

A procession of saints and historical figures - including a Conques abbot and Emperor Charlemagne, move in procession on the left. On the right is a group of four angels and some creative punishments of the damned.

Above Christ's head, angels hold banners with inscriptions reflecting a passage from Matthew:

"Then he will say to the people on his right: come you who are blessed by my father come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you. Then he will say to those on his left : away from me, you that are under God's curse, away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil... and these then will be sent off to eternal punishment, and the righteous will go to eternal life."

On the bottom level, Heaven and Hell are depicted as roofed buildings, each with an entrance door. On the right side of the scene, the damned are pushed into the Jaws of Hell.

The tortures and torments of Hell are shown in great detail and include some characters disliked by the monks: a bishop who governed the area is caught in a net and poachers on abbey property are roasted by the rabbit they had caught.

The righteous, are portrayed on the left, less vividly but still in impressive detail. The chosen ones are being welcomed by angels, who lead them gently by the hand to an ornate door. Heaven is shown as a city, representing the ideas of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Heavenly Jerusalem. Abraham takes the center, who embraces two saved souls. He is flanked by prophets on the right and saints on the left, each represented by pairs of men and women.

"The assembled saints stand before Christ, full of joy. Thus are given to the chosen who have won the joys of heaven, glory, peace, rest and eternal light. The chaste, the peace-loving, the gentle, the pious, are filled with joy and, secure, have nothing to fear."
             
For the damned on the way to judgment, the inscription reads "The depraved are plunged into purgatory. The wicked suffer the torments of the damned, roasting in the midst of flames and demons, perpetually groaning and trembling. Thieves, liars, deceivers, misers, ravishers, are all condemned with criminals.
             
"O sinners, if you do not mend your ways, know that you will suffer a dreadful fate."

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