History

  • L'hospitalet - Rocamadour

  • Peinture rupestre - Grotte des merveilles - Rocamadour

  • Fresque mural sur l'esplanade des Sanctuaires à Rocamadour

  • Rocamadour

With a history going back to prehistoric times, Rocamadour is a major pilgrimage town on the Way of Saint James.

Rocamadour’s origins are unknown. It is possible that a pre-Christian holy place existed here during the prehistoric era. Humans lived in these surroundings from a very early time and ancient drawings have been found in some of the caves they inhabited. One of the many legends attributes the origin of Rocamdour as a pilgrimage town to Zacheus, who allegedly later became St. Amadour and who was said to have come here to retire from the world after his spouse died. A more likely story, but one that also cannot be proven, is the tale of a hermit named Saint Amadour, who spent many years in this place, then called Val Ténébreux (Dark Valley), which later was named after him.

Thousand years of pilgrimage

What can be said with certainty, is that people came to this place from before the year 1000 to pray to the virgin Mary. Monks from Marcillac and later from Tulle carried out the services. In the second half of the 12th century the pilgrimage destination, very modest until then, rapidly gained importance.

Many miracles happened in the sanctuaries of Rocamadour, to the point that, around 1170, a famous Book of Miracles was compiled. At that time, the tiny oratory where the statue of the Madonna was kept, must have been flanked by a vast basilica built on a lower church (the crypt). Other chapels (of Saint. Anne, St. Biaise, St. Jean-Baptiste and St. Michel) were edified, all in this small space which took on the appearance of a sacred enclosure. In addition, the abbots of Tulle had themselves a palace built (which underwent a huge restoration in the 19th century). People flocked to Rocamadour from all parts of Europe, famous saints rubbing sides with criminals on a pilgrimage atoning for their sins, leaving their chains; survivors of shipwrecks, hence the ex-votos of ships (votive offerings); the infirm and the sick healed by miracles, hanging up their crutches.

A place predestined for a spiritual journey

The place seems to be predestined for a spiritual journey: the wild beauty of the Causse and the Alzou canyon, the striking vertical appearance of the town, its buildings both a challenge and a calling to a spiritual ascension, perfectly symbolized by the “grand escalier” (great staircase) with its 216 steps. In the chapel where the Black Madonna sits matronly on her throne, you can also see the 8th century "Miraculous Bell” made from wrought iron: written texts confirm this sounded the alarm for sailors in distress (on the rivers of the valley). The superb 12th century painting on the outside represents the Annunciation and the Visitation. After the French Wars of Religion, Rocamadour lost importance as a pilgrimage town, but kept its regional influence. The site is a magnet for tourists (1.5 million per year) and nowadays serves as spiritual centre for the diocese of Cahors and neighbouring departments. The highlight of the annual pilgrimage calendar is the week around September 8th

Grands sites Midi-Pyrénées
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