Rocamadour—The Vertical Village

Since medieval times, the village of Rocamadour in the Occitanie region of southwestern France has attracted pilgrims from across Europe for its historical monuments and its sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is said that Saint Amator—thought to be the Biblical tax collector of Jericho, Zacheus—had lived and died here, shortly after he left Jerusalem. Legend has it that after St Amator's body was discovered, several miracles started to happen, and as the healing powers of Amator's remains became known, the site began attracting pilgrims and donations from French kings and queens allowing the site to grow into a village with several shrines and places of worship. Eventually, Rocamadour became an important stop on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Campostela.
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Photo credit: dynamosquito/Flickr
Rocamadour attracts visitors for another reason—its dramatic setting. The village clings on to the cliff face of a canyon carved by the river Alzou. The buildings of Rocamadour climbs up the side of the cliff up to a height of 120 meters.
Flights of steps ascend from the lower town to the churches, a group of massive buildings half-way up the cliff. The chief of them is the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame, rebuilt in its present configuration from 1479, containing the chief attraction of the site—a wooden Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Amator himself. The small Benedictine community continued to reserve to itself the use of the small 12th century church of Saint-Michel, above and to the side. Below, the pilgrimage church opens onto a terrace where pilgrims could assemble, called the Plateau of St Michel, where there is a broken sword said to be a fragment of Durandal, once wielded by the hero Roland.
The interior walls of the church of St Sauveur are covered, with paintings and inscriptions recalling the pilgrimages of celebrated persons. The subterranean church of St Amadour (1166) extends beneath St Sauveur and contains relics of the saint. On the summit of the cliff stands the château built in the Middle Ages to defend the sanctuaries.
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