From the gouffres du Padirac to Rocamadour is not very far. We will go to Souillac later.
ROCAMADOUR bills itself as the "second site of France" after the Mont Saint Michel. It may be true, since Rocamadour has an extraordinary, fantastical setting, the medieval French version of a "pueblo" village in North America. This village is 900 years old and is a high spiritual place of pilgrimage, dedicated to the black Virgin Mary since the 11th century, nestled on the slopes of a rocky hill, a vertical cliff dweller's town, beautiful golden stone houses one, atop of the others, all this overlooking a deep ravine. The street twining from the river Alzou to the flamboyant Gothic Chapelle Notre Dame is lined with old houses, off course transformed to tourist trap souvenir shops, a waxworks museum, barely edible restaurants, but it's nice anyway. For side attractions have a visit to the museum of Ancient Automobiles, with toy cars, or small ones that kids used to pedal furiously in the 30's. Dinky Toys is represented too. Or also the Bee museum, and learn all what's to learn about 'from bee to honey"
What is less comfortable for the lazy tourist are the 233 stairs of the Via Sancta. But you can find a lift near the second gate, "Porte Salmon". The street continues through another gate in to the quartier de Coustalou, the prettiest and least restored part of the village. Then it's up to the basilique. Saint-Sauveur.
Some practical hints before I start my history lesson:
--only the cars with a booking to a Rocamadour hotel are allowed in the village. In July and August the nearer car parks outside the gates fill up fast, when you should park on top of the chateau or a 600 meters walk away from HOSPITALET, where, by the way, everyone stops for the picture postcard view across to Rocamadour, and walk or take the lifts into town.
-There is also a train running between the car parking in the valley and the site, 3.50 Euros and there to see Rocamadour illuminated.
-arrive early in the morning to avoid the worst or even better, come in autumn when Rocamadour is most magical. For people having some interest in history and religion, this article and anecdotes will please.
How did it all start?
In 1166, a corpse in an excellent state of conservation was discovered at the entrance of the chapel. Identified as the corpse of a certain Saint Amadour, a sanctuary is built the village grows rapidly. But what made Rocamadour so known is "a book of miracles" that a Rocamadour monk wrote in the 13th. The propagation of this work trough whole Europe made Rocamadour famous, especially for the help it brigs for sailors. And when Rocamadour is pointed out as one of the stops for the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostelle, they had a winner there! In the chapel Notre Dame, see the batted sword, which, according to legend, this is Roland's sword, Durandal. When Roland was stuck in the Pyrenees, about to die fighting the Saracens, the Archangel Michael takes his sword and tossed it far away, where it stuck in the cliffs of Rocamadour.
There are so many different and enough murky explanations about Rocamadour's origin!
Anyway, Rocamadour suffered a near-fatal setback during the religion wars when the Huguenots came to lay waste and desecrate the shrine of the black virgin, hacking the relics of St.Amadour to bits but leaving the Virgin intact.
There were always pilgrims in Rocamadour. They mount the Via Sacra on hand and feet, crawling uphill, bleeding and suffering to the Saint-Sauveur basilica, especially on the days of pardons and plenary indulgence. Chronicles say that 30,000 thronged into the village one, to pick their Get Out of Purgatory Free card. Around the churches and the Notre Dame chapel, there are seven sanctuaries used by the pilgrims.
And as lest resort, visit the Musée Francis Poulenc on the Parvis with documents and precious works of sacred art-all dedicated to the French composer Francis Poulenc, an atheist who converted to Catholicism after a vision here in 1936. And there is a fort, built in the 14th century.
A taste of Perigord (mars 1994), from Helen Raimes-Pèlerinages en Périgord, by Pierre Fanlac-Le Périgord (1997) by Marcel Clévenot and Eric Jung-The Pattern of the Past, by Guy Underwood (Museum Pres)
L'Epée de Rocamadour (2000)de Colette Laussac-L'image du pèlerin au Moyen Age et sous l'Ancien Régime, section Rocamadour, by Pierre-André Sigal,(1994) (Association des Amis de Rocamadour-The Cult of the Black Virgin,by Begg E.(Penguin Books: London, 1985; rev. ed., 1996)