Over the centuries, pilgrims crawled up the 216 stairs on their knees to view and pray for a buried saint and a remarkable statue in this cliff-bound travel wonder. Today, bus-loads of “camera pilgrims” crowd the small hamlet of Rocamadour, shop enthusiastically at the throng of market stalls and take a private lift to even avoid expending energy walking.
From the nearby vantage points, Rocamadour is an awe-inspiring sight, perched precariously on a 150-metre cliff face of grey rock over four distinct levels. On the highest level called L’Hospitalet lies a château which offer a vista over the muddled complex of old houses, church spires, chapels, towers and staircases all threaded together via a single lane ancient street which curls through the levels of the township in a series of switchbacks. The middle layers contain a network of seven religious buildings including the Shrine of Notre Dame.
Avoid the peak hours favoured by bus tour groups and this tiny village (population is only 600) develops a pious charm. Occasional devout pilgrims (wearing knee-pads) still crawl the Giant Escalier praying at the Stations of the Cross before reaching the chapel complex. Walking slowly up the narrow main artery of Rocamadour to savour the effort and feelings of centuries past, I can start to picture the pilgrimage some 800 years ago. In those times people had probably walked many hundreds of miles just to get to Rocamadour.
The centre of attention is the venerable Black Virgin statue and its claimed miraculous powers including curing King Henry III of England in the mid-1200s. Also significant is the tomb of the Christian hermit Saint Amadour (where the township obtained its name) and some notable frescoes.
Rocamadour is a worthwhile diversion if travelling through central France. Enjoy the locally produced Rocamadour cheese and soak an evening away in this medieval travel wonder.