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The very helpful Tourist Information office at Conques gave me a leaflet describing the village and in the leaflet Conques is explained as such:
‘To stroll through the streets of Conques (Concas in Occitan) discovering its exceptional and miraculously preserved architecture, an inheritance from the Middle Ages is, in effect, like taking a journey back in time and space to the year 1000 and to the heart of one of the most beautiful natural sites of the department’.
I would have to agree to a larger extent, perhaps though not the bit about ‘traveling back in space’, and all of today’s pilgrims (myself included of course) are ‘following in the footsteps of thousands of Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrims (romius in Occitan) who have been welcomed here since the 11th century’.
The leaflet continues: ‘The abbey-church of Conques and the pilgrim’s bridge are registered on the list of worldwide heritage by UNESCO on account of the paths in France to Santiago de Compostela’.
After uploading my blog post yesterday I checked in at the abbey (the building with the violet window shutters directly behind the church and 5 minute’s walk from the Tourist Information office: ‘Centre d’Accueil Sainte Foy) and after a very brief registration I was requested to park my boots and place my rucksack into a plastic bag, for hygiene purposes:
The price of a dormitory room bed is 11 Euro. Dinner is 12 and breakfast is 6 Euro.
When I arrived I explained that I had no money – I genuinely thought that as it was a monastery that it would be gratis – it was no issue and I was given a bunk bed spot along with other paying and non-paying pilgrims. Dinner and breakfast were complimentary for myself and I was very thankful for the opportunity to rest up for the afternoon with the reassurance that I would be eating that evening and the following morning. Like other pilgrims, I also washed my clothes and hanged them up to dry.
The abbey is a stunning example of Medieval architecture. To reach the sleeping quarters pilgrims climb the stone spiral staircase:
At 7pm dinner was to be served and pilgrims (all 100 of us) congregated in the courtyard just before 7. The dinner consisted of 4 courses: a lentil salad, a fish pie because it was Friday yesterday, a cheese plate, and a lemon tart as dessert. Wine was also provided. I shared the table with Erik – a pilgrim I met on the steps of the church earlier in the day – and also a group of adorable French women:
In the dinner hall there is a stunning stained glass window picture of Sainte Foy:
Before dinner the pilgrim song was unveiled and we all joined in as best as each of us could, in the melodic chant:
After dinner pilgrims were invited to a blessing for the journey ahead, in the abbey church, and I decided to join my new group of fellow pilgrim friends for this group gathering. It was beautiful and reminded me of my time last summer in the village of Granon when we were also given the focus of a priest’s blessings for the journey ahead and shown around the church interior, not normally open to the public.
There then followed a monologue, given by who appeared to be the chief monk, and in the post photo one of the French women was asked to join the monk in a dialogue. I understood absolutely nothing of the dialogue and I forgot to ‘Donkey bridge’ any of the French women’s names. I remembered Erik’s name because he is from Norway and the Donkey bridge for him was ‘Erik the Viking’ 🙂
Part of the monk’s monologue was describing the Tympanum of the Last Judgement, which artistically drapes over the entrance of the church:
After the monologue and the Rock Staresque antics of the monk (he was very enigmatic in his speech ‘performance’) we were invited into the church again for an ‘illumination’. This consisted of the same monk playing various songs on the church organ, while the upper chambers of the church were illuminated and we were given free access to walk around the normally out of bounds areas for the public. The atmosphere was indescribable as the monk played out ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on the keys:
Regrettably I took few photos of the village and all of the ones which I did take just didn’t give the village the justice which it deserved. In the morning I did take a photo of the pilgrim bridge, but it appears uninspiring compared to the real deal when you are there in the village:
A point worth noting here is that when I arrived to the abbey I was asked if I had a telephone reservation. I of course didn’t, and was lucky that there was a bed free. I would advise phoning ahead to book, and the telephone contact for the abbey is: 05 65 69 89 43.
Should you arrive and find yourself stuck without any place to sleep in Conques, then they do leave some of the exit doors open in the abbey and you could simply walk in and find a space somewhere in the building; also attending breakfast in the morning for free if you didn’t bring any attention to yourself. I’m not encouraging this; simply letting readers know of the possibility if they should find themselves arriving to Conques in the night and without a place to lay their head.
I’m not a fan of phone ahead reservations, because I think places should be available for first come first served upon arrival (as is the norm on the Camino Frances) and I think this (and the relatively high price for rooms) is a reflection of the fact that many of the pilgrims so far on the Le Puy Way are only walking a section of the path for a few days and have an expendable budget for their journey.
What’s an ‘elepig’?
An elepig is a man or woman who snores like an elephant and who maintains a personal hygiene regime like a pig, and yesterday I met my first elepig in the dorm room which I “slept” in. As soon as I saw this oaf of a pilgrim, laying on his bed, I knew he would be a snorer. When he went to the toilet, failed to wash his hands after, and then became almost imperial with his hands; touching beds, the walls, etc., I gave him a wide berth and wondered how anyone could be such a pig. There were 4 bunk beds in the room with 8 pilgrims planning on having a good night’s sleep, and none of us – except for the elepig – had a good night’s sleep because of the intense snoring which thundered all night like a restless storm from his bed. If pilgrims had guns there would have been a murder last night. I ended up kipping in the hallway just so I could escape the torture.
In the morning nobody’s clothes had dried from the evening before, and after breakfast I headed off with bare feet in boots and my clothes are still drying as I write this post in the unexceptional town of Decazeville:
Lovely people though in this town, but the place is a little run-down and a sharp contrast to the villages and towns walked past since leaving Le Puy exactly a week ago.
One last bit of info for pilgrims walking from Conques is that the walk – although not as demanding as the walk into Conques – is quite demanding with its ups and downs on the steep gradients. However a lovely surprise in one of the first villages leaving Conques was a little shack run by Christian, where he offers pilgrims the opportunity of a cup of coffee and biscuits (and a soup he was concocting from within) either for a donation or complimentary if like me you have no coins or notes:
It is lunchtime so I will go seek out a restaurant kitchen (hopefully) for a bite to eat and then lay in the scattered cloud and sun for a while until my socks dry so I can continue along the path without having the feeling that my feet are swimming in boot juice.
Oh, and I forgot my walking stick at the abbey in Conques so I am now sans baton 😦