Rocamadour Holds a 1000-Year Celebration
Rocamadour, the second most visited tourist attraction in France, is celebrating a millennial in 2013 amid signs that many more pilgrims will visit than the 1.5 million that travel to the sacred site annually.
Perched extraordinarily and spectacularly on the edge of a cliff face and at the edge too of the Pilgrims Way to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, the village has an eventful history.
In 1172 Benedictine monks at what is today Rocamadour identified 126 extraordinary events that they later described as divine miracles attributed to the Black Madonna whose wooden statue is venerated in the shrine.
Simon de Montfort the bloody crusader stopped at Rocamadour in 1209 at the head of his 20,000-strong army pursuing its southward march to hunt and destroy the Cathars.
Watch France 3 reportage of the start of the special celebrations here:
The sanctuary is to stage 50 religious and celebratory events for the millenial throughout the year between March 25 and December 8 2013.
According to French legend it was the arrival of Zacchaeus (see Exodus 22 in the Old Testament) that established Rocamadour as a shrine. He took refuge in France to escape religious persecution and spent his final years living as a hermit. In 1166 some perfectly preserved remains was found high up on the cliffside and were declared to be those of Zacchaeus, or St Amadour in French. Rocamadour was thus on its way to becoming a major pilgrimage site along the route to Santiago de Compostela. Saint Bernard, Saint Louis, Blanche de Castille, many French and English Kings and hundreds of thousands of others came to pay their respects and find cures for illnesses.
A short history courtesy of France this Way:
“The story starts in 1166 when the preserved body of a hermit, reputed to be Saint Amadour, was discovered in what was to become Rocamadour. Saint Amadour is reputed to be Zaccheus, the inn keeper who climbed the tree to see Jesus and whose wife St Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with a handherchief whilst he carried the cross. After the death of his wife Zaccheus came to Rocamadour as a hermit. He built a sanctuary in the rock and locals called him Amator (’the lover’) because of his devotion. Hence Rocamadour was named after the rock of Amator.
“Within a few years of a body being found (which was perhaps his) numerous miraculous healings were attributed to the saintly remains. Pilgrims started arriving – and kept arriving! The Black Madonna and the shrine became the main attraction for pilgrims and the town grew wealthy under the important patronage of kings and nobles of the time. Henry II of England was one of the first to come and donate a lot of treasure. The hospitals and churches, and the village of Rocamadour itself, grew to cope with the influx of pilgrims, as did the ‘grand staircase’ which pilgrims climbed on their knees to reach the village.
“By the 16th century the number of pilgrims had dwindled, and the Wars of Religion had caused great damage to the village, and it was not until the 19th century that the Rocamadour we see now took shape.”
The sacred site is accessible via the Grand Escalier, 216 weathered steps up which still today, devout pilgrims climb on their knees in penance before tackling the 14 Stations of the Cross culminating in the Cross of Jerusalem at the top of the cliff face.
Story: Ken Pottinger
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