Le reliquaire d'or de Sainte-Foy-RELICS

The golden reliquary of Sainte-Foy

The pilgrims ask the saints to intercede for all sorts of problems, but they have to be very careful what they ask when addressing Saint Foy, who seems to have a very developed sense of humor. Foy's relics are kept in an elaborate gilded reliquary in Conques, France, where they have been visited by devotees for over a thousand years.

The monastery was founded in 819 and led a quiet life of contemplation for the first 50 or so years of its existence. In 866, the monks were ready to attract a little more attention, and so they set out to acquire a realrelic, the key to bringing religious pilgrims – and their pieces – to Conques. To this end, one of the monks is sent to another monastery in Agen, which happens to be the home of the relics of Saint Foy, reputed to cure blindness and free captives.

In life, Sainte Foy was a young Roman woman martyred in the city of Agen as part of the persecutions of Diocletian in 303. Legend has it that the 12-year-old girl was first placed on a white-hot plate and that when the intervention of the saints prevented it from killing her, she was beheaded. After his death, his relics performed the usual assortment of healings and miraculous visions, making them a crowd-drawing feature of the church - which is precisely why the monk of Conques stole them from Agen and transferred them to the monastery in his town.

And so the pilgrims arrived. As the story goes, Sainte Foy developed its reputation for... unusual cures. Notably, when a knight came to see her to heal a scrotal hernia, she suggested, in a vision, that he find a blacksmith willing to smash it open with a white-hot hammer. Amazingly, this gentleman followed his divine instructions and engaged in this terrible plan until the last minute, when he fell backwards, away from the hammer - and was miraculously healed by the force of his fall.

Therelics of the saint are still kept in the female-shaped gold reliquary which dates to at least 1010. It is a 33-inch wooden statue covered in gold and precious stones, with a bust made from a recovered Roman helmet. The reliquary's manly face has sparked debate: some scholars see it as the face of a Roman emperor, while Thomas Hoving has suggested it was Charlemagne's death mask. Anyway, it is not only a large golden statue, but also the last example of this type of statue, once common in the Middle Ages.

The church is decorated with scenes from the life of the saint, as well as a large sculpture of the Last Judgment on the outside, in the tympanum above the main doors. Conques Monastery remains an important stop on the Camino de Santiago route, where pilgrims stop to visit the relics of Saint Foy and ask for her blessing for a safe journey.

The reliquary is no longer kept in the church itself, but in a museum located next to the cloister. It is released every year on its feast day, October 6.
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