In terms of perched, Rocamadour has to be the winner of first place. In fact it seems as if it hangs on the side of the cliff rather than perches – like a woodpecker halfway up a tree.
For over a thousand years it has been a pilgrim destination for thousands, including notable souls like Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine back in medieval times. They climbed the 217 steps of L’Escalier des Pelerins on their knees, kissing each step as they went! Myriads of other commoners and ‘not-so-commoners’ have done likewise over the centuries. Sharon climbed the steps and visited the Black Madonna, but Tina and I felt we were expiring in the heat and stayed at the bottom.
It isn’t a large town at all with only a population of about 600, but it is visited by a million or so people every year. There is really just one medieval cobblestoned street with two sets of stone portals each end, then the old monastery, pilgrims sanctuary set into the rock above. Up there also is the church of Notre Dame, where the black Madonna resides. About 120 metres from the bottom, right on top of the cliff, is the château and another of the 6 churches, but closed for repairs on our visit. We followed the Stations of the Cross on the steep winding path connecting the town to the chateau thinking of all those footsteps before us…
There were a lot of visitors when we were there, including pilgrims with their St Jacque shells on their backpacks. The day we were there was really hot – whether it was the heat or just me I don’t know but I felt quite unwell. We sat down for a bit in a restaurant and a citron and mandarin gelato got me back on my feet. A little mouse on the cobblestones also seemed to be suffering from heat exhaustion (or something worse), and a kind lady organised a little cardboard box and appropriate care for it.
All through the day, the church bells chimed tunes each quarter hour, and way up in the sky, eagles circled slowly above the town. We retreated down to the bottom of the valley for our picnic lunch – a lovely grassy spot surrounded by lots of shady trees.
Later in the afternoon, we followed a little path along the valley floor towards Fontaine de Berthiol, which we thought was the hermit’s spring. I’m not so sure now, as there seems no information about it on the net. Anyway, it was a beautiful time of day – the heat had subsided a bit and all was quiet and still in the late afternoon, except for insects drowsily floating over the grass. We passed a quaint old cottage in the middle of a large collection of quirky assemblage sculptures and finally reached Berthoil’s spring.
The water was so cool and refreshing. It certainly felt like it healing properties!
Heather, Tina and Sharon