Tour Rocamadour, a Holy Town Built into the Rock
Our only destination for today is Rocamadour. (Full slideshow is at the bottom.) I was still on crutches trying to get my feet healed up, and when I saw where we were headed my heart sank. It was Carol and I, and my older sister.
Rocamadour is builts into a sheer rock wall, and if the “ascenseur” (a funicular railway-elevator) is closed, which is was when we got there, it meant that a visitor had to climb the 200+ steps to get to the chapels and other sites at the mid-level of the town. Estimates vary on how far you have to climb, depending on where you end up, and we did not count them! This is the Via Sancta, or Sacred Road.
Actually, as we have mentioned in reference to other places we have visited, Rocamadour is known more as a “commune”, which means a small village. It was originally a prominent stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostelato in Spain, and it is believed that Rocamodour was named after Saint Amator, the supposed founder of the sanctuaries.
As you can see in the photo of the sign near the sanctuaries, in the 12th century, dignitaries, including Henry II, king of England, began to visit Rocamadour, and its importance started to grow.
Many modern visitors come here with a certain type of walking staff to symbolize the pilgrimage process, and a scallop shell, which symbolizes the many possible routes along the pilgrimage. There are numerous carvings of scallop shells here and there.
We first learned about it when we found “Rocamadour cheese” at the local markets. Of course, it is very well known in its own right, besides as a source for cheese. The Rocamodour cheese comes in small round chunks about two inches in diameter, and is exceptionally smooth and soft. It is goat‘s milk cheese and is available all over this area. Of the cheeses we have tasted, it is easily in the top five, chantal vieux being the number one.
The town below the churches and buildings now depends on pilgrims and tourists for business. In addition, the name Rocamadour now also belongs to . It was awarded AOC status in 1996. (AOC = Appellation d’Origine Controlee = Designation of Origin.)
Rocamadour has attracted visitors for its spectacularly beautiful setting in a gorge above the Alzou, a tributary of the River Dordogne, and especially for its historical monuments. Its sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary has for centuries has attracted pilgrims from every country, among them kings, bishops, and nobles.
I should mention that we were there in November. Most of the tourist sites close after November 10 because November 11 is Armistice Day in France, the end of the First World War. It is called Remembrance Day in some countries, and Veteran’s Day in the US, and is celebrated “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”.
Anyway, it is a big deal in France, and the absolute end of the normal tourist season, and the beginning of the holiday vacations for anyone involved in the tourist industry. They close their businesses until some time in February or March.
Cars are not allowed for normal travel in the town, so you walk through an archway, and then down a narrow, cute street to the sanctuaries in the middle of town.
So you can see in the pictures that there is really just about nobody in Rocamadour the day that we are there. We are alone on the stairs and in the streets where there would normally be hundreds of people at any time. Almost all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the funicular railway. While it would be nice to be able to window shop, it is even nicer to be by yourself in a normally busy tourist area.
The same thing happened to us at Machu Picchu when there was a huge storm getting out of Lima, Peru, and we were on the last plane out to Cusco on the way to the ancient site.
The first stop on the walk up from town is the Chapelle Notre-Dame and inside, the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where there is a statue known as the Black Madonna. It was originally coated with silver, but that is now gone. It is now black from centuries of oxidation and candle soot. I did not see the sign saying not to use flash until after I took this picture!
Inside the church is the larger nave, transept and altar of the main section. I had my flash off for this one!
Walking out of the church and turning right, if you look up you can see a sword stuck into the rocks. This is believed to be “Durandal”, the sword of Charlemagne’s lieutenant, Count Roland.
Just below it is a crypt and cave where the bones that were believed to be from St. Amadour were found. According to legend, a biblical character named Zacheus had visited Jesus before the crucifixion. Eventually he traveled to France (aka Gaul) under the name Amadour. Thus the biblical linking of the history of Rocamadour to Jesus and the pilgrimage to Spain.
There are actually seven churches or chapels at Rocamadour, but we have shown you the most visible and important sights.
After visiting the sanctuaries, we clambered down the stairs and hopped into our car for the quick trip down the street to the Hospitalet of Saint-Jean, the site of an ancient hospital that was the welcoming point for pilgrims starting in the 11th century.. Now it is a small town with a beautiful view from the same cliff into which Rocamadour is built. Of course, there is a restaurant open!! The Belvedere (“beautiful view”).
Finally, after our lunch, we returned to the upper part of Rocamadour, on the top of the cliff, where there are massive buildings that served as the home for the knights who inhabited the city, along with the clerics and regular people who lived below. In summary, it has been a great day with wonderful sights, a great lunch, and lots of exercise!!
Updated May 17, 2013 by JB Leep (Google Profile)
Original Post Thursday, November 15, 2012 Rocamadour in Lot, France, Carol Martin and JB Leep