Description and interpretation of the tympanum of Conques by Pierre Seguret
1. INTRODUCTION: the main theme

The common sense classifies Conques’ Romanesque tympanum (Aveyron, France) among Last Judgements. This is Doomsday, the End of Time. Here comes the Apocalypse. The Greek term apocalypse (Αποκάλυψις) literally means Revelation (αποκάλυψε). The tympanum of Conques will reveal the Last Ends before our eyes.

Several signs depict this apocalypse:
- Above the tympanum, on the Archivolt, 14 Cherubs wrap around the Firmament and reveal the Scene. This is an illustration of John’s Apocalypse: “the Sky disappeared like a scroll that is rolled up.” (Rev 6:14) These 14 “inquisitive onlookers" raise the curtain and we may watch the show!

4 des 14 anges curieux

The angels roll up the sky like a parchment


les anges curieux
ange curieux

- Then, two angels sound their trumpets to announce the Judgment. (From now on, the tympanum is inspired by the gospel of Saint Matthew, the second source of inspiration for the Last Judgments)

Right angel   
left angel

“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect” (Mt 24:31)

Strange celestial signs are appearing:

Le Soleil et la Lune

"The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light" (Mt 24: 29)

- Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. (Mt 24: 30) Une immense croix apparaît alors dans le ciel : c'est « le signe du Fils de l'Homme » annoncé par Matthieu.

Le signe du fils de l'homme


( Then will appear thise sign of the Son of Man [ie the Cross] in heaven)
- Two angels unfurl a banner around Christ repeating the verses of Saint Matthew about the Last Judgment:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, <the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world>.
Depart from me, <you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels>
(Mt 25:34-41)


We must define the timing of the tympanum more precisely: we are in fact just before the Last Judgment. According to the Scriptures, the Messiah is to return to earth to “judge the living and the dead” at the end of time.

This time of Revelation, of the Apocalypse, is the hour of the resurrection of the dead: the Last Judgment is imminent, but it has not yet been pronounced. (and anything can happen...)

La résurrection des morts
The cinematic sequence of the resurrection of the dead
Many signs indicate this advent of Christ:
- 1st clue: the position of Christ's arms, right hand raised towards the sky and left hand lowered towards the earth. This is the characteristic gesture of the Ascension in Christian iconography. Now, the Scriptures specify that it will be “in the same way” that Christ will return. ) This gesture appears, for example, on a sarcophagus in the crypt of Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseille.

Sacophage de la crypte de l'abbaye de Saint-Victor
The Ascension of Christ. Tomb of the companions of Saint Ursula (5th century),
Isarn chapel, crypt of Saint-Victor abbey, Marseille. The second coming of Christ will be “in the same way”
(Acts 1, 11)
- 2nd marker: the adventus. In Latin, Parousia (from the Greek Παρουσία which means presence) is called Adventus (or triumphal return). The Conques tympanum depicts a real Adventus, named after the triumphal parade ceremony of victorious Roman emperors intering into a city. At least ten details feature the emblems of the imperial procession of a Roman triumph. Their presence reveals the profound influence of Latin roots on the imagination of the designers of the Conques tympanum.
L'adventus ou le retour triomphal du Christ   
 The triumphant return of Christ of the Parousia
Le triomphe romain
                                          The Adventus of a Roman Emperor     
This staging of the triumphant return of Christ is in every way faithful to the description of the parousia according to the 12th century theologian Honorius Augustodunensis: “Just as when the emperor enters a city, his crown and other insignia of power are carried before him so that his 'adventus' is known to all, so when Christ returns for judgment, angels carrying the cross will precede him". (Honorius Augustodunensis)
Let us witness the parade of this great imperial procession announced to the sound of trumpets:
- Two angels carry the glorious Cross like a trophy;
Le trophée de la croix glorieuse
- Christ Judge and King (JVDEX REX) girded with the magistrates' belt and dressed in the paludamentum, the imperial mantle;
Le Christ Roi et Juge (JUDEX REX)
- Two ceroferal angels carry the candles that light the world;
Les anges céroféraires
- The thuriferous angel carries the censer;
L'ange thuriféraire
- The soldier of the victorious army, armed with a sword and a shield, repels the forces of evil;
L'ange soldat muni d'un glaive et d'un bouclier
- The gonfalon angel brandishes the standard of victory;
L'ange gonfalonnier
- The register where the fate of each person is recorded: SIGNATVR LIBER VITӔ (the Book of Life is sealed);
Le Livre de Vie
- Finally, the long procession of the vanquished, prisoners of Tartarus.
Le cortège des prisonniers du Tartare
 They are all there. Even the grotesque histrions (or satirical jesters dressed in fringed loincloths) who mock and taunt the defeated captives.
L'histrion Un histrion
Un autre histrion
- In the end, following the procession, pilgrims pass under the triumphal arch of the Conques portal. The tympanum celebrates the triumph of the Church, conceived shortly after 1100 and the capture of Jerusalem, that means a time when the Parousia was believed to be imminent.
L'arc de triomphe du portail de Conques
So the Conques tympanum does not exactly represent the Last Judgment but rather a Parousia. And yet, it is indeed about a judgment. So, what exactly is it? This is what we'll see in the second chapter: the monks' project.

Last upgrade : April 7th 2024

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