What a gem! This magical site clutches the side of a cliff and seems to pour down it like lava.
Vue de Rocamadour. : Wikipedia
Over a thousand years old it is a must see. In the Alzou Gorge just outside the Dordogne in the Lot it is accessed by road from several directions.
Like Mont St Michel in Normandy
, we wanted to experience this in its splendour without the tourist tumescence tainting the experience of this remarkable place.
By spending a night here we immersed ourselves and plunged back a millennium or two without having to dodge the Petit Train Touristique, the shops vending witches on broomsticks and T-shirts of I Love Rocamadour.
There are few car parks below – most are situated at the top outside the chateau on the road to Hospitalet. If you have pre-booked accommodation in the lower part of town (en basse ville) you may have a hope of an accompanying car park nearby.
We checked into our hotel around lunchtime, and while we awaited the tourist crowd departure we dined in the very pleasant ambience of Best Western Beau Site; our lovely hotel in the main street en basse ville. It has great views over the valley and it features a lovely restaurant, serving lunch (not dinner) under linden trees as you admire the view.
Rocamadour also is the site where in 1166 AD, a most remarkably perspicacious monk recognised the perfectly preserved 1,000 year old corpse of a contemporary of Jesus; the early Christian hermit St Amadour.
So clever of him to be able to do this.
Of course it meant that pilgrims all over Europe and France were even more moved to either make Rocamadour their destination or stop off here on their way along the ancient pilgrimage
route to Santiago di Compostela.
Legend says that St. Amadour was really Zaccheus of Jericho, the innkeeper/tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus stagger past on his way to Calvary. His wife, St. Veronica, wiped the face of Jesus as he carried the cross. Penitents from all over Europe came here from the 12thcentury onwards to climb the precipitous steps on their knees and worship at Amadour’s tomb, the Chapel of the black Virgin and at the other chapels hewn into the rocky cliff.
In the 12th
century Henry Plantagenet and his Wife Queen Eleanor
came through here and gave many endowments.
Black Virgin (Photo credit: ginsnob)
Their son Henry even came here and stole the 9th century Black Virgin in 1183 but died shortly afterwards of fever (Henry that is, the Black Virgin was never alive) and his dad returned it bestowing even more endowments to avoid his son’s eternal damnation by the local Bishop. This statue of the Black Virgin Mary still in existence is the very same you see today in the tiny chapel of Notre Dame. ( black from the walnut wood used to carve it)
Inspired by people like St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Eleanor of Aquitaine the worship of the virgin was at its peak in the 13th century.
Rocamadour is precipitous.
We staggered asthmatically up the steps like true penitents and worked off 5% of our delicious lunch (yes, salade de chevre chaud – again) The less laborious option is to park at the top near the chateau in the car park from the road to Hospitalet. Descend by the Stations of the Cross (le chemin de croix). Pass under the massive fortified gate and you will enter the small courtyard of the Chapels and the religious city of 7 chapels – la Cité Religieuse.
Cite Religieuse: Wikipedia
Climb the steps up to the Chapelle de Notre Dame and the Black Virgin – with the tomb of Saint Amadour (the corpse discovered in 1166) by its entrance. Before entering look up and see the ancient sword of Durandel wedged into the rock on a chain. The legend is that in the 800’s A.D, when Emperor Charlemagne was fighting the Infidels in Spain his brave nephew Roland owned an enchanted sword which contained within the hilt a tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s frock – as one would expect of an enchanted sword.
As Roland lay dying during the battle of Roncesvalles he gave his sword to archangel St Michael (see adjacent chapel) who hurled Durandel from the Pyrenees like a javelin straight into Rocamadour’s cliff, far from the infidels so they could not use it.
And you will see it in all its rusting glory today.
Historically though: this story of Roland and Durandel over the next several centuries became an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces and Roland became almost a “pop icon”. His story was told in the most famous and oldest major work of French literature in existence – the 11th Century poem: The Song of Roland.
Before entering the Chapelle de Notre dame – turn 180 degrees and admire the remarkably preserved 12th century frescoes on the Chapelle Saint Michel’s (the thrower of Roland’s sword) walls depicting scenes of Death weighing souls and a painting of the denunciation and visitation of the Virgin Mary.
Simon de Montfort the bloody crusader camped here with his large army of 20,000 on his way South in 1209 to hunt and destroy Cathars. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and Saint Louis King of France also visited in the 12th and 14thcenturies.
Did you know that:
one theory of the origin of the name of Madeleines
– those orange flavoured scallop-shell shaped cakes – is that a young fille called Madeleine offered her cakes to voyagers making the pilgrimage
to Santiago di Compostela. And the symbol for the pilgrims was the scallop shell.