A beautiful town on the top of a cliff. How Mary was winning my heart without me noticing
Nestled in the Dordogne valley in the French Occitan region, about 254 km from the city of Bordeaux and 160 km from Toulouse, the village of Rocamadour rises on a calcareous cliff approximately 150 meters high. From the top you take real dimension of the forest that surrounds it, it is one of those places where you can admire the creation of the Lord. One understands then the reason why this sacred place is one of the most visited in France.
It is believed that before the arrival of the Romans it was already considered a holy place. However, the first vestiges of a chapel date back to the 6th century and the written accounts of miracles granted by Santa María de Rocamadour are still later.
The saint of the name
Around the year 1160 Benedictine monks found the uncorrupted body of San Amador under a rock in the area that today bears the name of Ròc Amador. It is said that an inhabitant of the place wanted to be buried (by divine inspiration) at the entrance of the oratory and that when it began to dig in the earth the remains of the saint appeared. After the discovery, the religious decided to place them on the altar of the church and show it to whoever would like to see it.
According to a legend spread by the monks themselves, Amador was actually Zacchaeus, the short biblical character who climbed a sycamore tree in Jericho to see Jesus. After the meeting he converted to Christianity and, in fulfillment of a promise made to the Son of God, he distributed half of his property and everything that he had acquired illegally.
It is believed that Zacchaeus married Veronica (the woman who wiped the face of Jesus during the cross with a cloth on which the holy face was printed). Both would have sailed through a divine wind to the mountain of Rocamadour and lived as hermits in one of their caves.
Mother of the Pilgrims
With time, the first chapel of the town was built. It dates from 1479 and is dedicated to Our Lady of Rocamadour, in honor of the image it holds.
There was a time when it was thought that the sculpture of Mary had been the work of Saint Amador and that Saint Luke had helped him, but the truth is that it is a statue made in the 12th century. She is known affectionately as a Black Madonna due to her dark complexion. Possibly, as with the Black Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala, the color is related to the candles and incenses lit there for years.
The Holy Mother has her eyes closed and the baby Jesus is sitting on her left knee. Both are crowned. The image corresponds to the so-called “relicarias” or “maiestas mariae” (the Virgin represents the throne of her son and the Church against the divinity), which were very popular during the Middle Ages and had great acceptance in the Romanesque and Gothic.
For several centuries, the Marian sculpture with fervent face, sketched smile and outstretched hands receives pilgrims from different countries. Kings (Louis IX of France, Henry II of England and Alfonso III of Portugal), preachers (Domingo de Guzmán and Antonio de Padua), and nobles have come to ask, thank and praise God through Mary.
In the Middle Ages, the French Way of St. James began in Santa Maria de Rocamadour. Although at present it starts in another locality, in the path there are images of the Black Virgin in clear reference to the original road.
While you can go down from the top of the city, historically the pilgrimage was not only to reach the village but also to climb on their knees the 216 steps of the staircase leading to the religious city (seven churches). Today, there are people who continue to do and offer. It is really painful, the steps are limestone and it is necessary to make a great physical effort to go climbing in that way. However, we have not seen faces of suffering, on the contrary, we perceive the faith and hope of the devotees. Upon reaching the highest point, the pilgrims visited the sanctuaries and left objects in offering.
Many Catholics have testified about the favors obtained thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of Rocamadour in the “Book of Miracles”, found in 1172. The work presents more than 126 events narrated as personal chronicles.
The town and the temples
To go from the lower area of the city to the religious temples, you have to follow a path between buildings that go into the cliff. Step by step, one goes discovering the town that arose around the Virgin.
The largest church of the Sanctuary of Rocamadour is the Basilica of San Salvador, in whose crypt the relics of San Amador rest. The parish is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its central nave is a swarm of diagonal arches that end in ribbed vaults.
Nearby is the chapel of Our Lady of Rocamadour. Outside, a sword is embedded in the rock. It is said that the weapon is called “Durandal” and that the hero Roldán (Charlemagne’s nephew) nailed it in that place so that it would not fall into enemy hands.
You can also visit the Chapel of San Juan Bautista. It is the smallest one but it has a baptismal font inside it (it is the only one of the holy places where baptism is allowed). It was built in the fifteenth century and retains its original Gothic portico. It has mural paintings of the most important kings and personalities who came to Rocamadour as anonymous pilgrims.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the Church awarded perpetuity of plenary indulgences to the people who receive the sacraments of penance and communion in Rocamadour on the feast day of St. John the Baptist (June 24) when the date coincides with Corpus Christi. Christi
There is also another chapel, which since Sunday October 16, 2011 is dedicated to Our Lady of the Oval (by the shape of the rugby ball). Although it is not old, I think it is the one Mary used to motivate me to visit this Shrine. I always liked sports and getting there was no coincidence.
Following the logical route of the town, one arrives at Our Lady of the Oval. From there there are three ways to go down. One is to return by the same path that we climbed; the second is to take an elevator; and the third, which is what we recommend as the closing of this visit is the Via Crucis.
The path is very nice because it allows you to see the forest, the cliff and the valley well. But above all, it’s exciting. One has the opportunity to thank in each season for the creation before their eyes, while meditating on the suffering of our Lord. The last stop is inside a natural cave that formed at the base of the cliff.
Although I visited this town as a tourist, at the time I realized that in reality Mama Maria was the one who guided my steps. I was starting my way, without my noticing it.
Many times I have written these chronicles trying to capture the experience in each place. However, I have no memories of having felt much in Rocamadeur, nothing special really. Surely this was because at that moment my heart was closed and it was Mary who was pushing the door to open it. Today, looking in retrospect, I understand everything.
Our Mother did not want to invade me. I knew that was not the way to win my heart. Even so, he approached me with patience and wisdom. He made me visit “as a tourist” the image of Our Lady of the Oval, and from that day something moved inside me.
The impressive cliff invites to marvel admiring the city suspended between the earth and the sky. Beyond the centuries of stories and wars suffered, both the Church and the image remain standing, thanks to the constant prayer of our Mother.
This blog is the example that when you have a closed heart you do not see well, but it is also the clear explanation that that hard heart is not an impediment for Maria.
Honestly, I did not notice that I was in a holy place until some time later, when my heart had softened. Then I ask you not to let your heart harden. If it is already hard, be innocent as children so that Maria can make “yours”.
- Rocamadour is an amazing town, one of the most beautiful places in France and it is also a Holy place.
- Remember so many “famous” pilgrims who visited the Sanctuary anonymously.
- Try the Rocamadour cheese, it is a goat cheese made exclusively with raw whole milk.
- As in several regions of France wine is something special, the red Amadour is a pleasant blend of grapes to drink.
- You can not miss the foie gras, as well as the lamb and the walnut cake.
- Open your heart, feel in each step the sweet company of Mary.