This morning we did the usual breakfast thing, at the hotel restaurant. The only significant difference to the cuisine was the lovely Rocamadour goat cheese they had, mmmm yum! We did the usual trick of packing our bags in the car so we could have a quick getaway when we were finished touring.
We started off heading down the main (and really only) street. We wanted to scope out how to get the car out of the town, particularly since we'd be doing it in the middle of the day. We walked past a few souvenir shops, and quite a few restaurants before we got to the last town gate. We thought we would have to drive all this way, which we weren't looking forward to (Or at least I wasn't as I had so politely volunteered to drive out of town again).
We found ourselves turning around, and we were at the bottom of the grand staircase. This was the last part of the pilgrimage trail in Rocamadour. People would climb these steps, sometimes on their knees, to show penance to the Saints and the holy mother. We climb the stairs, instead of taking the cheats way out and using the lift, which had really just been put there to help people in wheelchairs for example.
Given we had started early in the morning, there was still quite a few people out and about already. We reached the top of the stairs, and there was a small walkway and some more shops, then another set of stairs which led into the Sanctuary of Rocamadour. There was a sign at the entrance to the sanctuary saying all are welcome, and that now you have reached the sanctuary celebrate and rejoice. There is also a request to try to do 3 things: Admire, Contemplate and pray. Well, I'm not a religious man (Why come to Rocamadour you might ask) but I'll honour the first two of these at the very least.
The last few steps up into Rocamadour's sanctuary are very planned I would say. The door is within a building, and there is no light there, only what comes naturally. The top of the stairs however, are in a small courtyard, where we had lots of sunlight. The buildings are very light in colour as well, I'd say “off white”. I did not have a guide to describe this, but I assume it was designed to reflect ascending into a heavenly space.
There are a number of chapels off this square, so we elected to do the most important one first – the Shrine of Lady of Rocamadour. We walked up another small staircase to the small concourse at the entrance of the Shrine. There are also a few other chapels that lead off this area. Not all of them are open to the public. The chapel of St Michel was on this concourse, and was one of those closed. Also on the concourse was the cave of St Amadour, more about that later, as there was a tour group in front of it at this moment.
We walked into the darkened Shrine of the Lady, to see the most significant relic open to all, the Black Madonna. The Black Madonna is a wood carving of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. It is believe that St Amadour carved this himself. It is a simple carving, not highly detailed, but it is very special for the Sanctuary. Tess and I lit some candles here for lost loved ones, and stopped to reflect their impact on our lives. The shrine isn't very big, and can hold maybe 50 people standing and seated. This makes it a challenge to really appreciate the ambiance and reflect its importance as requested, but you couldn't criticise anyone for wanting to come and see this for themselves.
We moved back outside onto the concourse, and the tour group around St Amadours cave had gone, so we stopped to take some pictures. I don't know the accuracy of what I'm about to say, whether some of it is urban legend\myth or if it is true. Rocamadour is named after St Amadour. It is said that the saint originally came to the area after he had lost his wife or his love to illness. He lived in the caves, and had dedicated his life to God, after his loss. He died in solitude, and was found many, many years later, in the cave we were now looking at. However, his body had not decomposed, which was seen to be a miracle. They also found the Black Madonna nearby.
People came to Rocamadour on pilgrimages after this, but the town itself was no where near as spectacular, until a Monarch ( I think King Henri I) came to visit and witness the body of St Amadour for himself. Allegedly the King who was quite ill, touched the Black Madonna and soon after made a very miraculous recovery. He was so grateful for what had happened, he started sending money to help build a real sanctuary for the pilgrims. Soon after Amadour was found to have a third miracle, and was subsequently beatified and he became St Amadour. The village itself became known as the “Roc of Amadour”. We threw some coins into the cave, which was covered with a metal grill to protect it.
From here we went through a small entrance onto another concourse and took some pictures over the valley and of the town below. We then went into the other open chapels and took pictures and sat down and admired when we could. The last bit we did before leaving the sanctuary, was to go down to the crypts. This area was a “practising area”, as it had people praying and worshipping at the altar. I didn't take any pictures of this area, and left it fairly quickly.
We then left the sanctuary out of one of the gates, through a tunnel which had many stone tablets on the wall, where people wanted to say thank you to the Sanctuary. Out the other side of the tunnel, and we were in an area which had a very, very long ramp going up the rest of the cliff face. At the bottom of the ramp was a little monument, which had - in French – First station of the cross. There was a small model of the first station showing Jesus with the cross.
Tess and I started the walk up the long ramp, which was reasonably new. I know from what I'd read in the past, this area used to be stairs as well. I said to Tess that we'd only go part of the way up, as she wasn't too keen about climbing further up the cliff\mountainside. I got her to station 6, and we stayed here to take pictures for a bit. She then said we should go a couple more. I agreed. Eventually, we got to the last of the small monuments, station 13. Someone was a little grumpy we'd gone so far and wouldn't go the last step which was up to the very top where the cross was. I said I was going to go, as I couldn't stop here when we were right near the top. I was glad I did, and the last bit was actually some of the easiest part of the climb.
I came down the ramp and met Tess again, and we climbed back down the ramp. I'd say, we climbed it in an hour at a relaxed pace, and walked down it in 15 minutes. When we got back down to the hotel level, I did might bit to contribute to the local economy, and then we got into the car to drive to our next destination – Carcassonne!