Reliquary statue of Sainte-Foy (Saint Faith), late 10th to early 11th century with later additions. Gold, silver gilt, jewels, and cameos over a wooden core, 2′ 9 1/2″ high. Treasury, Sainte-Foy, Conques.
Faithful Christians have long believed bones, clothing, instruments of martyrdom, and the like have the power to heal the body and soul and the housing of such relics became very important. Sacred shrines were erected to protect such relics and to offer a place to worship in front of one. These shrines would prompt massive pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, and locations throughout western Europe. The monasteries that possessed the relics of venerated saints attained great financial resources from pilgrimages so the churches would compete with one another for the possession of relics and the magnificence of the reliquaries that preserved and protected them. Saint Faith (Sainte-Foy) is an early-fourth-century child martyr who refused to pay homage to the Roman gods. A monk from Conques stole the saint’s skull from a nearby abbey around 880 and justified the act as furta sacra (holy theft), claiming the saint wished herself to be moved. The reliquary they had created for the saint is in the form of an enthroned statuette of Sainte-Foy. The expensive materials used for the reliquary were added across myriad dates and were paid for from the accumulated donations of pilgrims and church patrons. The oversize head is a reworked ancient Roman parade helmet that the monks added a martyr’s crown to. A Crucifixion image is engraved on the rear of the throne.
The construction of the immense stone-vaulted basilica of Saint-Sernin at Toulouse began around 1070 to honor Saint Saturninus, the city’s first bishop who was a martyr saint of the middle of the middle of the third century. It was designed to accommodate the large congregations that gathered at the shrines in Toulouse, an important pilgrimage stop. The two towers of the western facade were never completed and the crossing tower dates to the Gothic and later periods, but the church exemplifies the “pilgrimage church” type. The lengthened and widened nave, added transepts, larger ambulatory, and multiple radiating chapels all provide more room for pilgrims and the clergy. Acting as buttresses and providing galleries for overflow crowds are the tribunes located above the inner aisles. The design and engineering of the tribunes allow the nave to support the stone vault overhead. Adding to the majesty of the interior and also providing support are compound piers, geometrically set to provide the “impression of being numerous identical vertical volumes of space placed one behind the other. A group of seven marble figural reliefs adorn the ambulatory’s wall and are one of the earliest precisely dated series of the Romanesque period. The reemergence of stone sculpture is one reason the period is aptly named; the use of the stone carvings and vaults seem to coincide with a desire to beautify the house of God and make each church, in the words of Gervase of Canterbury, “a paradise of pleasure.”
When the duke of Aquitane, William the Pious, donated land near Cluny in Burgundy to the Benedictine monks under the leadership of Berno of Baume in 909, he also waived his feudal rights to the land. This decision left the monks obligated only to the pope in Rome and permitted the Clunaic order to become the primary patrons of Romanesque sculpture. They became famous for their scholarship, music, and art, and as their influence and wealth grew, so too did their monastic churches at Cluny. Construction of the third church at Cluny, called Cluny III, began in 1088 under the leadership of Abbot Hugh of Semur. Largely destroyed today, it was the largest church in Europe when it was completed in 1130 and would remain so until the new Saint Peter’s in Rome was built in the 17th century. The nave was more than 500 feet long and 100 feet high and was a symbol of the power and prestige of the Clunaic order.