Rocamadour: Holiday at the Cliff Face

The limestone geology of the Midi-Pyrénées region of France is widely known for the underground caves and the spectacular prehistoric paintings found therein. There are, however, some quite dramatic limestone cliff faces that also hold their fair share of treats for travellers and holiday makers. One of these is the Medieval town of Rocamadour. Flowing along the valley floor is the river Alzou, above which the buildings of the Medieval village appear as if to ‘cling’ somewhat precariously to the high vertical cliff face.

Rocamadour-across-valley

The history of the village is as extraordinary as its location, with a long and fascinating tradition of medieval pilgrimage. There are some wonderful small family-run hotels and B&Bs that make Rocamadour a wonderful destination in its own right. And when not sitting on the terrace enjoying great Midi French cuisine, the mysterious Medieval art and artefacts on display at various locations in the town will be sure to captivate.

Pilgrims began flocking to Rocamadour in large numbers some time before the 9th century, and over the centuries that followed the town became associated with an important pilgrimage tradition, and numerous religious sanctuaries were built and worshipped at. For centuries people come from all over christendom to Rocamadour to expiate their sins, be cured or simply thank the Virgin of Rocamadour. The history and fortunes of pilgrimages to Rocamadour are complex, and are of course greatly influenced by other historical events, such as the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

rocamadour-black-madonna-altar

The most important sanctuary is in the church of Notre Dame, which dates back to the 1400s. It has an amazing altarpiece of gilded bronze, and holds a statue of the Virgin of Rocamadour, the so-called Black Madonna, seated on a throne with Jesus as a child on her knee. A book of miracles in the church records some 126 accounts of miracles in Latin that are attributed to the Virgin. The church also has a few frescoes dating back to the 15th Century.

rocamadour-black-madonna

The Abbey Palace was restored in the 19th Century, and now takes on a strange gothic-romantic appearance. Today the palace houses the Museum of Sacred Art, a collection of objects and vestiges from Rocamadour and various other municipalities in the Lot region. And once done with the Medieval treasures of Rocamadour, there are also a number of contemporary art workshops and galleries to visit.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.