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Among the many renowned pilgrims wasHenry II, King of England. According toaccounts by Robert de Torigny, a Normanmonk and chronicler, the King travelled fromDomfront, Normandy to offer prayers. Hehad recovered from a terrible illness, thanks,he believed, to divine mercy.I follow the zigzagging ‘Way of the Cross’path at the base of the castle that traces thecracks of the cliff face leading to theentrance to the Sanctuaries. It's made up ofseveral chapels and churches that seem tooverlay each other. Parts of the compoundare built into the cliff itself, using the rocksto support the building structures. Thepreserved remains of St Amadour werediscovered in the rock face in 1166. He isbelieved to be a servant of the Holy Virgin,responsible for 126 recorded miracles thatoccurred here during her intercession.Entering the church ‘layer’ of Rocamadour, Iam immediately drawn to Saint SauveurBasilica. It’s the largest building in thesanctuary, snuggled up to the cliff face andconstructed over many years, a blend of lateRomanesque and Gothic styles.The Notre-Dame Chapel, the heart of apilgrimage, where the Black Virgin overseesher worshippers from a bronze alter, is justaround the corner from the basilica. Justoutside the chapel entrance, I notice a coffinsized cave cut into the cliff wall. This iswhere St Armadour’s body was found, aswell as a rusty sword driven into the rocksabove. Known as the Durandal sword, it waswedged there to prevent it falling intoenemy hands, a story weaved into themystery of Rocamadour, luring pilgrims toworship at its core.The church square leads to the Palace of theBishops, restored in the 19th Century. It'snow a Museum of Sacred Art and exhibitsregional religious art as well as special loansfrom churches around the world.
Feeling purified and blessed by holy spirits, Idescend the Grand Escalier into the towncentre of Rocamadour. To left and right itappears as one long corridor lined withhotels, shops, restaurants and residences. Inthe Middle Ages, this narrow strip of roadwould have been crowded with pilgrims, aswell as a support system including mills,hospitals and defence gates of this holy site.Much of the village along Rue de laCouronnerie, the main artery through town,remains unchanged in layout. There hasthough been restoration work to thefacades that has eroded over time, and onlySalmon Gate remain its original features.I rest my feet and take dinner on theoutdoor terrace of Restaurant Le TerminusDes Pélerins overlooking the Alzou valley.The food is so tempting I can't resist thewalnut cake that is the speciality of theregion, and platter of local cheese. Smallrounds of young goats cheese that bear thesame name as the town. While it isn’tstrictly from Rocamadour itself, I can nowconfidently say, I’ve had Rocamadour inRocamadour.Many day visitors return to the cliff top tojoin their coaches, however I plan to staythe night, watching the shadows playaround the valley by the glow of the dippingsun.Craning my neck and looking up towardsthe churches and the castle above, I amsuddenly filled with a sense of awe. Iimagine the pilgrims, coming through thegates on either side of the villageencountering the majestic power ofarchitecture and height, you can see howthey were persuaded by stories of miracles.I ponder the steep stairs upwards andconsider whether I’d be dedicated enoughto climb it on my knees.No. I decide that's not for me, I have furtherto travel and need my legs for my onwardwalk...
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