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The Tympanum of the Cathédrale Ste-Foy, Conques


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The famous tympanum of the Cathédrale Ste-Foy dates from the early 1100s.  It portrays the Last Judgement and contains 124 figures.  As is usual in Last Judgements "Hell" is on the right, and the saved occupy (less interestingly) the left.  Beneath the figure of Christ, Saint Michael weighs souls to determine their destination, with the Devil trying to tip the balance in his favour.  The reliefs were originally brightly painted, and traces of this can still be seen, particularly in the upper (and more sheltered) part of the work.
















Procession of the chosen - from the right - Mary, Peter (with the keys to Rome or heaven and a broken crosier) and the original Conques' Hermit Dadon, followed by the abbot Bégon (with crosier) leading the Emperor Charlemagne by hand.  Contrast the more sceptical queue for hell in the north portal at Reims which includes a king, bishop and abbot!





This is the same photo as the one above, with the evening sun effect removed to show the old colours better.



The lower level of goodies are seated to either side of Abraham (with his right arm around Ste-Foy) in comfortable chambers lit by overhead oil lamps.  Above them is Ste-Foy wedged in prayer opposite a helping hand and the resurrecting dead.  Goodies of course are never quite as interesting as baddies ......











In the central panel of the bottom part of the tympanum to the left of the divider are the saved, to the right the devil's people.  Souls are weighed and assessed by the Archangel Michael - the arm of the scales in the Archangel's left hand has to be imagined (see detail below) as it has fallen off, but the scale bowls are still there, and the devil is using his finger to tip the scales down in his favour (this being a common representation in this sort of scene).  Behind the devil someone has managed to stick his head through the floor.  Below, another candidate waits to follow head first the feet disappearing into the jaws of hell.




The Archangel Michael - weigher of souls sans balance




another candidate waits to follow head first the feet disappearing into the jaws of hell










Armed angels hold back the damned.  In the top centre a condemned abbot (plus three monks) prostrates himself, clutching his grounded crosier, in front of a grotesque hunch-backed devil figure who also has three monks in his net.  Next there is another devil figure standing on a figure clutching a heretical book, whose head is being eaten by a demon underneath (who has also stabbed him in the back).  Finally a false money changer is given a drink of molten metal.





A naked king has his crown removed "by mouth" by another of those pennant hemmed devil figures,  whilst giving a futile "it wasn't me it was him" finger gesture.  Two other authority figures are abused, though in the right hand case the devil figure seems to be asking for help with his hoof or showing that he can bend his knee backwards (this is probably a parody of the English Lord who was said to have dislocated his knee whilst trying to kick in the abbey's cellar door). 





Fine cloth is stripped from the wealthily dressed, whilst on the far right a glutton is strung up and emptied.  These figures are in a more shady area of the tympanum, which may be why they have kept their old colours better.


Below them (in the bottom right of the tympanum) - Lucifer and his court oversee a good roast of miscellaneous sinners .....




A singer of bawdy ballads has his harp confiscated and his tongue torn out





On the lower left (details below) - a knight who persecuted local Christians is pitchforked (literally) head down off his horse to get his come-uppance; illicit lovers, necks roped together, await their fate; a miser is hung by the weight of his money. 




Note the toad observer - nothing has been missed !




This section includes a toad and 5 serpents, one acting as what Australians would call Satan's trouser snake, set against a background of red flames.




Here's another of those pennant hemmed devil figures





The tongue of a scandalmonger is pulled; a dominating woman sits astride the shoulders of a man, but they're done for - he's got a rope around his neck, she holds a presumably hungry serpent and they're both being pushed down into the flames; and on the far right we can only see the belly of another glutton whose head is already in the cauldron over the fire.




and above them a rabbit headed devil helps spit roast a poacher, whilst another serpent gnaws his foot.



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