Pilgrims have flocked to Rocamadour since the discovery in 1166 of an ancient grave and sepulcher containing an undecayed body, said to be that of the early Christian hermit St. Amadour. King Louis IX, St. Bernard, and St. Dominic were among many who visited the site as a spate of miracles were heralded, it is claimed, by the bell above the Black Virgin and Child in the Chapel of Notre-Dame. Although the town suffered with the decline of pilgrimages in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was heavily restored in the 19th century. Still a holy shrine, as well as a popular tourist destination, the site above the Alzou valley is phenomenal. The best views of the town can be had from the hamlet of L’Hospitalet.
There are various stories about the life of St. Amadour. One legend claims that he was Zaccheus of Jericho, who knew and conversed with Jesus during his time on Earth. His wife, St. Veronica, gave Jesus a cloth to wipe his face during his journey to Calvary. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Zaccheus and his wife fled from Palestine to escape religious persecution. On their travels, the couple met St. Martial, Bishop of Limoges, in Aquitaine, France, who was preaching the Gospel. They continued to Rome, and while there they witnessed the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Paul. The death of his wife led Zaccheus back to France and the place later named after him, where he stayed until he died in AD 70.
CHAPEL OF NOTRE-DAME
This Romanesque chapel was built in the 15th century close to the site where St. Amadour’s body was found. Considered the holiest of Rocamadour’s chapels, it houses the famous statue of the Black Virgin and Child Pilgrims who heard about the statue flocked to the shrine, often climbing the Grand Stairway on their knees as they prayed for the forgiveness of their sins. A 9th-century bell hangs in the chapel’s vault and is thought to ring when a mirade occurs. Saints and kings also made the journey to the chapel, including England’s King Henry II. Legend says that he was cured of an illness when he prayed before the Black Virgin and Child.
The Museum of Sacred Art is housed in the Bishop’s Palace, which was constructed by the abbots of Tulle in the 13th century. The museum was restored in 1996 and is dedicated to the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), who was inspired to compose Litanies to the Black Virgin after visiting Rocamadour. The museum’s collection of statues, paintings, and religious artifacts has been assembled from different sites around Rocamadour. Particularly interesting is the 17th-century statue of the prophet Jonah, carved in wood, and the fine lanterns, vases, and chalices that are still used in various religious ceremonies at Rocamadour.
A Station of the Cross
Pilgrims encounter the Cross of Jerusalem and 14 stations marking Jesus’ journey to the cross on their way up the hillside to the chateau.
Now a pedestrian precinct, the town’s main street is lined with souvenir shops to tempt the throngs of pilgrims and visitors.
Rocamadour is at its most breathtaking in the sunlight of early morning: the cluster of medieval houses, towers, and battlements seems to sprout from the base of the cliff.
Chapel of St. Michael
Well-preserved 12th -century frescoes can be seen on the exterior of this chapel, which is sheltered by an overhanging rock.
Tomb of St. Amadour
The body of the hermit from whom the town took its name (Rock of Amadour) was once held in this small sanctuary beneath the basilica.
Pilgrims would climb this broad flight of steps on their knees as they said their rosaries. The stairway leads to the church square on the next level, around which seven main pilgrim chapels are grouped.
This stands on the site of a fort that once protected the sanctuary from the west.
Basilica of St-Sauveur
This 12th -century Romanesque-Gothic sanctuary backs on to the bare rock face.
St. Anne’s Chapel
Built in the 13th century, this chapel has a fine 17th -century gilded altar screen
Chapel of Notre-Dame
The highly venerated 12th -century statue of the Black Virgin and Child, made of walnut wood and covered in blackened silver, stands on the altar.
Chapel of St. John the Baptist
The chapel faces the fine Gothic portal of the Basilica of St-Sauveur.
Crafted in either lead, bronze, tin, silver or gold, the Sportell was a medallion bearing an image of the Virgin Mary and Child that was carried by pilgrims who had visited Rocamadour. During the Middle Ages, it was often worn as an amulet, sewn onto a hat or coat, and served as a pass to cross certain war-torn regions.
1166: The preserved body of Zaccheus, later renamed St. Amadou r, is discovered.
1172: The Book of Miracles is drafted, with the testimonies of miracles granted to pilgrims.
1193-1317: More than 30,000 pilgrims flock to the religious site.
1479: The Chapel of Notre-Dame (Miracles Chapel) is constructed.
1562: Rocamadour’s chapels are plundered by Protestants.
1858-72: Rocamadour’s restoration is supervised by abbot Jean-Baptiste Chevalt.