The village of Rocamadour
UNESCO Heritage List
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Rocamadour is a medieval village and a pilgrimage location declared in 2008 one of the Great Sites of Midi-Pyrenees ("Grand Site Midi-Pyrénées"). The Sanctuary is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Perched on a cliff above the canyon of the little river L'Alzou, Rocamoadour is together with Eiffel Tower, Mount Saint Michel, Carcassonne fortified city and the Versailles one of the most visited tourist sites of France.
Rocamdaour is described in a local Occitan language saying as "Lous oustals sul riou, las gleisas sus oustls, lous rocs sus las gleisas, lou castel sul roc" a colorful yet exact description of the town that translates: "The houses above the river, the churches above the houses, the rocks above the churches, the castle above the rocks"!
The name Rocamadour comes form the words roque meaning rock and Amadour the name of the Saint who is said to have lived there in the first century AD and whose perfectly preserved body was discovered in 1166.
There is no documented evidence concerning the identity of the Saint whose body was dug in 1166, but after the local tradition it was that of Saint Amadour known in the New Testament as Zacchaeus a man who actually meet Jesus Christ. .
The discovery of the relics of Saint Amadour only reinforced the pilgrimage location status of Rocamadour a town known as such since the first centuries after Jesus Christ when Christians from all over Europe were coming there to venerate The Virgin of Rocamadour.
The legend says that Saint Amadour carved in wood a statue of the Virgin. The statue being placed in a little chapel where the pilgrims were lighting candles blackened in time in color due to the smoke and began to be called in the 17th century the Black Virgin. The statue that can be seen and worshiped in the Notre Dame Chapel is of an exquisite beauty. It represents The Virgin and The Child on the throne. It dates only (!) from the 12th century and in time was covered in silver and adorned -more recently- with gold crowns.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Rocamadour, as famous a pilgrimage place as Jerusalem, Rome or Compostelle, received also famous pilgrims: in 1159 Henri II of England came there to thank Virgin Mary for being healed, in 1244 Saint Louis came here with his mother Blanche de Castille to pray for the wellbeing of France and the list continues with Philip the Fair in 1303, Charles IV the Fair in 1323, and Louis XI twice, in 1443 and 1464.
During the Religious Wars in France Rocamadour was looted and burned by the Huguenot armies and the relics of Saint Amadour were destroyed - only some bone fragments were saved and placed in the Crypt of Saint Amadour. It is said that the Protestants made out with an enormous profit from the spoilage of the treasure of the Notre-Dame Chapel.
The town was once again destroyed during the French Revolution.
In the middle of the 19th century Rocamadour underwent important restoration work under the command of Monseigneur Bardou, Bishop of Cahor and Abbot Pierre Cheval.
The part of the Sanctuary that comes to us in its almost initial 12th century shape is the Crypt of Saint Amadour, a very simple 32 steps underground church dedicated to the Saint.
Rocamadour is also linked -by legend- to one of the celebrated medieval heroes: Roland the army leader whom an unknown author dedicated the poem "Chanson de Roland". Nephew of Charlemagne and military commander Roland took part in the 8th century in the war against the Moors who were occupying the South West of Europe. The legend wants that, due to his step-father treason, Roland is encircled by the Moors and knowing that he is going to die tries to destroy his powerful sword "Durandal" so that it will not fall in the hands of his enemies. Being unable to destroy it - he crakes the stones with it but the sword is unbreakable! - he asks for help from the Archange Saint Michael and with all his forces launches the sword. The sword flies taken by miraculous forces for a long distance and lands on the rock of the Sanctuary of Rocamadour. It can still be seen embedded on the rock on the left side above the door of the Notre Dame Chapel (as a replica).