Rocamadour, the Rock of Amadour, in southwest France goes back to the 12th century, to an ancient grave that was believed to contain a 1st century saint, Amadour a contemporary of St Paul, and a missionary to Gaul. He was thought to be married to St. Veronica who had wiped the face of Jesus as he carried his cross. A religious complex was built out of a side of a steep cliff and soon there were reports of miracles and a pilgrimage site began. This is also located on one of the paths of the Camino de Santiago.
The current site is rebuilt after having caved in many years ago. Two medieval churches are on the site, the main upper church of Notre Dame and lower church of St. Sauveur. Notre Dame contains the black madonna, credited to St. Amadour, black due to the age, the wood and its proximity to devotional candles. The madonna was discovered unharmed after the cave in.
The site is impressive and fun to wander around. It is at about the half point of a tall steep cliff. A steep path with stations of the cross winds upward to a chateau. Hundreds of steps descend to a town of medieval buildings that still are a functioning town. It is a charming site but, because of its dubious provenance, is more of a curiosity. Our visit was more of the part it played and, even now, still plays in the devotional life of the faithful.
An interesting detail is a sword that projects high on the cliff above Notre Dame church. It is supposed to be the legendary sword of Roland, a knight of Charlemagne, a defender of France from the saracens. Roland is portrayed as a knight extraordinaire, loyal and brave. The sword, Durandal, was without equal, and as Roland lay dying, rather than have it fall in enemy hands, threw it where it wedged itself in the rock at Rocamadour, where it remains. This story is no longer believed, but in the category of never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. I must admit, we put in a lot of time trying to locate it.
Mass was difficult in the cramped upper church, with the black madonna looking on, but certainly an experience to remember.