Rocamadour

A land of spirituality with undeniable charm

Address

46500 Rocamadour, France

GPS: 44.80066241878, 1.6192041216616

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Rocamadour is a small village on the border of the Périgord Noir, in the south of central France, overlooking a gorge of the Alzou River. This village of 600 inhabitants, perched on a clifftop above the Dordogne Valley, has been a pilgrimage site since the 12th century. Occupied by man since the Paleolithic era, the rocky spur of Rocamadour became the “Citadel of Faith” in 1166. That year, monks discovered a burial site with a perfectly preserved body. They identified it as that of a hermit known to have evangelized the ancient French province of Quercy in the third century. Named Saint Amadour, this religious figure gave his name to the village. It was only much later, in 1427, that the ecclesiastical authorities decided that it was the remains of Zacchaeus, a companion of Jesus Christ.

Following the discovery, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Rocamadour was built. It houses several chapels and a basilica. Over the centuries, pilgrims flocked in increasing numbers to venerate Saint Amadour and to pray to Our Lady of Rocamadour, a miraculous statue of the Black Virgin, also called “Black Madonna”. In the Middle Ages, certain privileges were granted to pilgrims by kings and bishops. In particular, the faithful had to climb the 216 steps of the great staircase of Rocamadour on their knees. Symbol of the influence of this Marian city, many kings such as Henry II of England, Charles IV (the Fair) and Louis IX (Saint Louis), as well as Eleanor of Aquitaine, went to Rocamadour to make offerings and honour the Black Virgin.

The Black Virgin attracts many pilgrims and is venerated by sailors. A ninth century bell in the Notre-Dame chapel rings unaided when a miracle occurs at sea, even though it is 200 kilometres from the nearest coast. It is also renowned for its healing powers. Thus, the Benedictines could count 126 miraculous cases attributed to the Black Madonna from 1172. Damaged during the French Wars of Religion, plundered by the Protestants in 1562 and then under the French Revolution, Rocamadour lost its influence before regaining its popularity in the 19th century. With 1.5 million visitors each year, this land of legends and beliefs is now one of the most visited sites in France. The motto of the town and the Marian sanctuary: “L’espérance ferme comme le roc” (literally, Hope as firm as a rock) continues to attract tourists and pilgrims to this extraordinary place.

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  • The spiritual atmosphere of the Marian sanctuary and the genius of the builders; its romantic atmosphere at nightfall in a medieval setting
  • The Saint-Sauveur Basilica of Rocamadour and its 12th century frescoes; the Saint Amadour crypt and the seven chapels of the sanctuary accessible by the pilgrim’s grand staircase (or by elevator); the Black Virgin visible in the Notre-Dame chapel; the relics of Saint Amadour
  • The castle overlooking the rock, the ramparts, the arched stone gates and the old houses of the village; the sword Durandal associated with Roland (faithful companion of Charlemagne)
  • Visits to the sanctuary at night (in July and August); the view of Rocamadour from l’Hospitalet’s hamlet
  • The limestone cliffs and rock formations of the Causse de Gramat; the valley and the gorges carved by the Alzou River
  • The Rocher des Aigles (show of birds of prey and eagles); the Forêt des Singes (forest where a hundred Barbary macaques live in freedom); the equestrian shows and historical animations (organized in the Durandal park)
  • The cave paintings of the prehistoric cave Grotte Préhistorique des Merveilles (accessible from April to November) and of the Linars cave (not visitable but occupied by man 10,000 years ago); the Cougnaguet Water Mill (5 kilometres from Rocamadour); the free visit to the farm La Borie d’Imbert (factory of the famous Rocamadour cheese)
  • Hiking through the valleys, the cliffs and the limestone plateau of the Regional Natural Park of the Causses du Quercy, including the Boucle du Moulin du Saut (a 4.5-kilometre circuit in the neighbouring town of Gramat); landscapes dotted with small constructions and low dry-stone walls (supposed to delimit the grazing areas of goats)
  • The Rocamadour Festival in August (classical music concerts in the Saint-Sauveur Basilica and artists’ residences); the Montgolfiades de Rocamadour event organized every year in September (hot air balloon show); the torchlight processions (Saturdays in summer)
  • From the end of the 12th century, the popularity of the Rocamadour sanctuary was such that it rivalled the mythical sites of Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims throughout Europe flocked by the thousands to pray to the Black Virgin, synonymous with fertility. In the Quercy region, they followed wide paths marked out by low dry-stone walls that were built by shepherds for their herds of goats.
  • No miracle is attributable to Saint Amadour, but in the Middle Ages, his perfectly preserved body aroused the faith of the faithful. In 1562, during the Wars of Religion, the Protestants burned his remains. His bones, preserved as relics and placed in a chest, continued to be venerated for 400 years. Then, in the 1970s, amidst suspicion about their authenticity, the relics were removed from public view. It was not until 2016 that these were returned to the sanctuary, in honour of the 850th anniversary of the discovery of Saint Amadour.
  • The Black Madonna of Rocamadour is considered the Christianized survival of the mother-goddesses of antiquity. Proponents of this theory, including Egyptology professor Ashraf Sadek, often equate her with the Egyptian goddess Isis. The origin of this small wooden statue is unknown and controversial. It is probably older than the 12th century. Its appearance evokes that of a middle-aged woman. Strangely, she does not wear a headdress or a veil, symbols inseparable from “honest women” in the Middle Ages. Her slightly wavy, free-floating hair was “erased” during a post-World War II restoration. The child’s right hand resting on her knee was cut off. It is therefore impossible to know what object he was holding. The original statue has been transformed, and on multiple occasions.
  • To protect themselves from external threats (wars, bandits, attackers), the monks founded a garrison of soldiers in the 14th century. This garrison watched over not only the sanctuary, but also the pilgrims who generated considerable economic benefits for the region. A secret staircase dug into the rock allowed the soldiers to reach the ramparts from the sacristy to lookout for possible attackers.
  • An old sword remains preserved in a rock wall of Rocamadour. The local tradition affirms that it is Durandal, the sword of Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne. It is said that those who touch it become pregnant within a year. It is believed that the sword was moved to a more inaccessible place to avoid the spectacle of women pulling up their dresses and standing on their husbands’ shoulders to touch the relic.
  • Rocamadour is the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) and AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) name of cabécou, a goat cheese made from whole raw milk. This small, round, flat cheese has a creamy texture. It has been produced since medieval times on small goat farms by families in Quercy (pilgrims loved it).
  • An elevator or a large staircase allows one to reach the sanctuaries from the medieval city.
  • Spending a night in the village of Rocamadour, after having visited the city the same day, will make you a privileged guest considering the small capacity of the city (it is advisable to book your accommodation and restaurant in advance).
  • To immortalize the end of your stay, don’t forget to taste the small goat cheese that inherited the name of Rocamadour (to be eaten hot or cold with toasted bread).
  • South of Rocamadour, in the regional natural park of the Causses du Quercy, another medieval village overlooking the river Lot is worth a visit. Nestled at the top of a cliff is Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a small village of 200 inhabitants classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France (one hour drive from Rocamadour).

Where to eat

  • Auberge du Coustalou
    (local and family cooking)
  • Le Voyage D'Ernestine
    (regional dishes revisited)
  • Jehan de Valon
    (in the heart of Rocamadour)

Where to go

  • Padirac Chasm
    (vertiginous cavity)
  • Market of Sarlat
    (local products)
  • Caves of Lacave
    (luminous visit)

Where to stay

  • Le bout du Roc
    (friendly guest house)
  • Hotel Beau Site Notre Dame
    (beautiful medieval building)
  • Hotel Le Troubadour
    (at the gates of Rocamadour)