Rocamadour, a medieval town built in successive levels clinging to the cliffs above a canyon where the river Alzou flows, has been admired by visitors for centuries.
As early as the Middle Ages, pilgrims came from all over Europe to pray in the town, as it is home to the relics of Saint Amadour and the shrine of the Black Madonna.
Rocamadour is crossed by a street, Rue de la Couronnerie, which is very lively and full of shops and beautiful houses.
Visitors then arrive at a monumental staircase of 233 steps that rises into the heart of the town, a square where seven churches and chapels stand, including the Notre-Dame chapel, a pure wonder.
It contains the Black Madonna, a small black wooden statue, “fragile but with amazing spiritual power”.
Also worth seeing are the Basilica of Saint-Sauveur and the Crypt of Saint-Amadour, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their importance in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Rocamadour is also worth a visit for its castle, which offers extraordinary views over the town.
A little history…
Rocamadour’s origins are rather mysterious. Its very ancient human habitat and caves decorated with paintings testify to prehistoric life, and specialists evoke the presence of a pre-Christian sanctuary. One legend even attributes the origins of the pilgrimage to Zacchaeus, who came to retreat there. More likely, but without proof, a lore tells that a hermit, Saint Amadour, spent many years in this place, which was called the Dark Valley and then changed its name. What is certain is that even before the year 1000, people came to this place to pray to the Virgin Mary.
The Book of Miracles
According to the Book of Miracles, written in 1172, Our Lady of Rocamadour cured diseases, freed prisoners, saved sailors and also protected people during wars. That is why hanging models of ships and of prisoners’ irons can be seen in the Notre-Dame chapel. The crowds that came to Rocamadour came from all over Europe. The greatest saints and kings rubbed shoulders with criminals making a conciliatory pilgrimage and throwing off their chains. Survivors of shipwrecks placed ex-votos of ships here, and the sick and invalids hung their crutches here.
The legend of Durandal
In the 8th century, the brave knight Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, fought a battle against the Saracens at Roncesvalles. During this famous battle, he was seriously wounded. Roland sees his death approaching and tries to break his sword, called Durandal, against a rock to prevent the enemy from taking it. But the blade remains intact. Roland then invoked the archangel Saint Michael and threw his sword with all his strength. The sword miraculously travelled hundreds of kilometres to be planted in the rock of Rocamadour, where it can still be seen today.