Within the Tartarus of the tympanum of Conques, we can distinguish two types of sins:



An adulterous couple presents themselves with a rope around their necks. The man, with his hands tied, is haired like a cleric.
These priests who violate celibacy, or these adulterous couples, have given in to the temptation of lust.
Here we are in the inventory of individual faults, some of which also constitute capital sins: lust, as well as the vainglory of the Knight and the lure of profits of the Usurer.

We call capital sins serious faults which are often at the origin of a multitude of other sins which result from them.


Le couple adult�rin
Lust (adulterous couple)

- Another capital sin: greed.
A miser is hanged with his purse around his neck.
The image refers through the play of polysemy to the hanging of Judas following his betrayal for thirty pieces of sillver.

The Miser


Another of the seven deadly sins, anger, here turned against oneself,  with this suicidal person who plunges a dagger into his throat.
It may be an allusion to the "endura", the fasting to death of the Perfect Cathars whose Manichaean heresy begins to spread in the south of France despite the condemnation by the Roman Church.

Le Cathare suicidaire
Anger (or the suicidal Cathar?)

Some sins are considered mortal. These are those which are committed deliberately, with full knowledge of the law.

This is the case with slander. This liar has his tongue torn out for having lied, slandered, sworn, gossiped, or worse blasphemed...

Le calomniateur
The Slanderer



This monk is probably a Goliard, a gyrovague monk who travels from abbey to castle to occasionally play secular tunes on his crwth (psaltery) such as "Carmina Burana" and other burlesque, satirical or even bawdy songs.
A demon tears out the tongue with pincers, while another tightens the garrote of this man of little faith.

Note that the position of this spandrel is the symmetrical opposite of that of faith, embodied by the child martyr.


Epigraphy draws up a list of human profiles doomed by their faults to the Tartars: these are all the perverted (perversi), the unjust (iniusti), thieves (fures), liars (mendaces), greedy (cupidi), rapacious, (rapaces), deceivers (falsi), and other criminals (scelerati).

Le moine blasph�mateur
The clericus vagans strangled

We deliver interpretations quite far from the commonly accepted conformist vulgate:
- We have already mentioned the true Master of Money as Servant of Mammon, instead of the alleged Counterfeiter.

- Likewise, it is not a poacher who is roasted by a rabbit, but rather the hunter himself.
Or more precisely, one of those men who lived away from village communities, these “forbanniti" (from Foris bannitus, or forbannen), these outcasts leading an out-of-the-ordinary existence, who had a very bad reputation and were suspected of practicing homosexuality.

(They had certainly no other option than to exclude themselves into the depths of the woods.)


Here again, this deadly scene occupies the opposite position to that of the Resurrection of the Dead, to signify that these lawless men will not deserve Salvation and will burn eternally in the flames of Hell. These flames are represented and it is no longer a question here of the metaphorical Fire of the Restoration, but of the real Flames which consume and roast this rogue "Forban" or "forbannen man".

Le chasseur

The suspicion of homosexuality is also suggested by the presence of the hare-eared devil, a beast reputed to be impure, fornicating, coprophagous, and pederastic symbol in ancient Greece: it was in fact the traditional offering of the erastus to his eromeno in Greek antiquity.

Le li�vre, offrande de l'�rate � l'�rom�ne
The hare, Erastus' gift of his Eromenos
(Attic red-figure ceramic, 5th century BC, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome)

This outcast hunter kisses a toad on the mouth. This is an explicit allusion to the Stadingian rite. The Stedinger were a people from Lower Saxony who also lived apart, isolated in the Weser marshes and on the East Frisian islands in the North Sea. A people of free men, governed by the codes of the Thing (their local assembly), they lived in the 11th century thanks to a little piracy and dried up the polders. Fiercely autonomous, they refused the fiscal control of the Archbishop of Bremen.

They were accused of pagan practices inherited from ancient Germanic cults and of constituting a heretical Manichaean sect. They were attributed - rightly or wrongly - with satanic rites consisting of kissing toads on the mouth.

They had perhaps noticed the hallucinogenic and amnesic effects of a secretion of bufotenin, a toxic substance from the toad's skin. The batrachian's slime had the effect of erasing all memory of Christianity from the memory. (1)This is a probable allusion to apostasy.(2)


Le crapaud, symbole du rite des Stedinger
The toad, symbol of the Stedinger rite

The popular version (quite folkloric) sees a gourmand in this character with a very big belly. The punishment for gluttony would be immersion in the big pot of soup, wouldn't it be ?


Le gourmand plong� dans la marmite
Gluttony punished by eternal fire???

No, not at all. For us, it is a question of a much more serious fault: it is a truly hellish scene. An abortion scene. Witches were in fact reputed to be capable of preparing abortifacient potions.
And here we find again the myth of Lilith who causes miscarriages and kills infants. (And like her, this gravid woman has no visible breasts.)

The evil cauldron, cloven feet, mortar, snake and toad are clear signs of witchcraft (and not remedies for any indigestion...)

The abortion recipe

Who are these two characters with large books in hand, one standing and the other lying down in the section on social sins of Knowledge?
For Pierre Séguret, they are heretics.

Indeed, several heresies developed in the 11th and 12th centuries under the influence of itinerant preachers who traveled through Provence, Languedoc and Aquitaine:

- Berengar of Tours (998-1088) who doubts the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist;
- Peter of Bruys (1095-1131) whose followers (Petrobrusians) broke altars and crosses;

- Arnold of Brescia (1100-1155), disciple of Peter Abelard, denounces the temporal power of the Popes and participates in the revolts of the Romans against the Pope;

- Henry of Lausanne (1116-1148) castigates the celibacy of clerics, advocates total poverty for the clergy, refutes the existence of a purgatory fire and only admits salvation or damnation (the opposite of the words of the tympanum of Conques ! ;
- Last but not least, the Cathar heresy is very present at the beginning of the 12th century. as attested by the Council of Toulouse in June 1119 where Calixtus II renewed the condemnation of the Manichaean Languedoc heresies.

Les h�r�tiques
Heretics with their books of false prophets
A hypothesis to be confirmed  

An enigma persists with the four clerics above Emperor Henry V.
In the context of a hypothesis, certainly daring, but plausible of a very late dating of the tympanum (during the last third, or even last quarter of the 12th century, after the Treaty of Venice in 1176), it could be four antipopes:

- Anacletus II  (1130-1138) ;
- Victor IV (1138) (+ an other one in 1159-1164) ;
- Paschal III (1164-1168) ;
- Calixtus III (1168-1178).

The last three correspond to the reign of Frederic Barbarossa (1155-1180).

Anyway, their immediate proximity to an emperor (Henry V) induced an association of ideas between these clerics and political power.



Le quarteron des antipapes
The Quartet of Antipopes ?




The scenes are obviously not randomly arranged. We gess that there is a horizontal gradient of increasing seriousness of faults as we move away from Christ (and as the characters' gazes turn away from him).
So, would simony be a little less serious than the production of money and the merchant less guilty than the usurer?

Would there not also be a vertical gradient from venial sins to mortal sins, redemption becoming less and less possible as one moves away from Heaven?
Would the abbot have a greater right to Mercy than his Bishop and a fortiori than his Pope?

In this hypothesis, the abortion scene in the lower right corner, is really plounged in the depths of Hell, without any hope of remission.

Les gradients de gravit�

Until now, to describe and explain this tympanum, we have limited ourselves to the literal sense, the proper meaning of the images. But there are many other meanings; what we invite you to discover now. To be continued...

8th Chapter: the four sens of scripture

(1) In the 13th century, the Stedinger were excommunicated en bloc then massacred in 1230, during a crusade, at the time when the Albigensian Crusade was ending (return)

(2) This renegade is devoured by the “wrath of fire” promised to apostates in the epistle to the Hebrews: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (He 10: 27-28) (return)

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