A Holy City Named After a Hermit – Roc Armator (Lover of Rock):
Rocamadour is a medieval village perched on a hillside in the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy in the Lot 46 departement. The village became one of the most famous centres of pilgrimage following the discovery of an ancient grave and tomb in 1166. It contained an undecayed body believed to be that of the Christian hermit St. Amadour. The hermit was nicknamed “roc armator” (lover of rock) and the village took its name from him.
Rocamadour is laid out on four levels. There is a grand stairway from the village to a square on the first level where the main pilgrim chapels are. Pilgrims used to climb the broad flight of 224 steps on their knees, saying their rosaries along the way.
If you don’t fancy climbing up the steps on your knees, or if climbing up steps is strictly against your religion, there are two sets of lifts that take you to the top. These are privately owned by two families. The first lift takes you from the village level to the shrines and you connect with the second lift which takes you to the castle at the top.
We started our exploration of Rocamadour by going up to the castle and then making our way down. The trip to the castle is worthwhile as the views from up here are spectacular. You’ll need a two Euro coin to pass through the old automatic turnstile to get access to the chateau’s ramparts. It wasn’t manned when we visited so if you don’t have 2 Euros, there’s no one there to provide you with change.
As we make our way downhill we are walking in the opposite direction to the pilgrims. Along the shady path we pass the Cross of Jerusalem and the 14 stations marking Jesus’ journey.
At mid-level is where the cluster of sanctuaries can be found. The chapels include the Chapelle Notre Dame with the statue of the Black Madonna at the altar. This is the main object of veneration in Rocamadour. Other main chapels are the Basilica Saint-Sauveur with its fine Gothic portal and Saint Michael’s with its well preserved 12th century frescoes.
Rocamadour is still a holy city today, although the village itself is a tourist precinct. About a million visitors come to Rocamadour each year and along its main street are many souvenir and food shops. Unlike the days of the pilgrims, this little village now has its own petit train for those who don’t fancy too much walking even at ground level.
If you only have limited time in Rocamadour, catching the lifts is a wiser move as as it will give you time to enjoy the views from the upper levels, explore the chapels and then enjoy the walk back down to the village. A couple of our fellow travellers exhibited airs of self-righteousness having climbed up to the top and then raced back down again, but then they missed all the sights.