The West Tympanum at the Church of St. Foy in Conques

Early 12th century (shortly after 1107)
Painted limestone relief
Church of St. Foy, Conques, France

This is one of the best preserved tympana in France, still crisp in detail and still blessed with a good deal of the original paint.


In the center of the middle register a mandorla encloses the enthroned Christ. Compare Revelation 4:3, "there was a rainbow round about the throne." Two angels with candles stand guard at the base of the throne (see detail). On the left the elect process to the throne: the Virgin Mary first, followed by St. Peter, then Dadon, the hermit who established the first oratory in Conques, a few meters away from this tympanum. Next is an abbot, whose right hand holds the left hand of Charlemagne, who donated the land for the church and is accompanied by acolytes who carry his gifts to the church. (See detail.) Behind this group the procession continues with four saints (see detail).

To the right of Christ four angels stand in a stylized sea. They hold, respectively, an open book that says SIGNATUR, a thurible, a lance, and a flaming sword (see detail). To the right of this group we see the demons tormenting the damned (see detail).

Directly above the figure of Christ is a cross with symbols related to the crucifixion accounts in the gospels: a sun and moon above the left and right crossbeam represent the eclipse of that day; the supporting angels hold in their hands a nail and a spear; and the top piece bears the inscription [JESV]S REX IVDEORVM – i.e., "Jesus, King of the Jews," the inscription ordered by Pilate. To the left and right of this, two angels blow horns to announce the Last Day. (See detail.)

Directly beneath the Christ figure St. Michael and a devil engage in the Psychostasy, the "weighing of souls." To the right, souls who did not pass the test are suffering the torments of the damned. (See detail.) At the farthest right, one of them is being roasted on a spit (see detail). Left of the Psychostasy is the Resurrection of the Body: angels open the graves of the dead for their final judgment (see detail).

Left of the Resurrection of the Body is a triangular area devoted to St. Foy, who kneels before the hand of God (see detail). Behind her, empty shackles hang above an altar with a chalice (see detail). The shackles refer to prisoners freed at the intercession of St. Foy. The altar, columns, and arches represent St. Foy's church.

The bottom register juxtaposes two visions of the afterlife. On the left Abraham embraces his sons amid the arches and towers of the New Jerusalem, with six crowned figures on his right (see detail) and four on his left (see detail). On the right an unhandsome Satan presides over the tortures of the damned (see detail). In the center of this register, an angel on the left greets the just at Heaven's gate while on the right devils push their victims one after the other into the mouth of Hell (see detail).


The inscriptions on the tympanum remain for the most part clear and readable to this day. Secondary inscriptions are discussed in the detail images listed below. The main series of inscriptions comprises one long rhyming verse on the left and another on the right. Each verse begins along the border between the top and middle registers, then continues along the border between the middle and bottom registers, and concludes along the border that outlines the "roofs" of Heaven and Hell in the bottom register. Where necessary, the artist has used a cross to separate the two inscriptions from each other. Another separate statement (not shown here) is inscribed along the bottom border of the tympanum.

The inscription on the left reads as follows (slash marks indicate where the text moves from one border to the next):

SANCTORUM CETVS STAT XPISTO IUDICE LETUS / SIC DATUR ELECTIS AD CELI GAUDIA VINCTIS GLORIA PAX REQUIES PERPETUUSQVE DIES / CASTI PACIFICI MITES PIETATIS AMICI SIC STANT GAUDIENTES SECURI NIL METUENTES, "The company of saints stands happy before Christ the Judge. Thus joy is given in Heaven to the elect, to those who have conquered, [Together with] glory, peace, rest, and eternal day. Thus stand the chaste, the peaceful, the meek friends of piety, rejoicing, secure, fearing nothing.
On the right the rhyming verse reads as follows:
HOM[I]NES PERVERSI SIC SUNT IN TARTARA MERSI / PENIS INIUSTI CRUCIANTUR IN IGNIBUS USTI DEMONAS ATQUE TREMUNT PERPETUOQUE GEMUNT / FURES MENDACES FALSI CUPIDIQUE RAPACES SIC SUNT DAMPNATI CUNCTI SIMUL ET SCELERATI, "Perverse men are thus sent down to Hell. They are tortured, burned in flames. And they tremble at the demons and groan perpetually. Thieves, liars, deceivers, the greedy and rapacious, and criminals – all alike are damned in this way."
The long band beneath the whole length of the relief reads as follows:
O PECCATORES TRANSMVTETIS NISI MORES IVDICIVM DVRVM VOBIS SCITOTE FVTVRVM, "O Sinners, know that unless you change your ways there will be a hard judgment."

The following enlargements of areas of the tympanum are available: Read more about images of the Last Judgment.
Read more about images of St. Foy.

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.