S. Laurentii Martyris
The Archbishop’s annual visitation to France and the Dordogne apostolate (August 1-8th) concluded this year with a pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Rocamadour a renowned pilgrimage site in France. Nestled within the stunning cliffs above the medieval city, this ancient sanctuary draws pilgrims from all over the world.
The Archbishop’s visitation served as a symbolic gesture of faith and unity, as he led the clergy and faithful on a spiritual journey to pay homage to the Virgin Mary. The pilgrimage not only strengthened the bond between the Church and her followers but also provided an opportunity for reflection, prayer, and renewal of faith. It beautifully portrayed the concept of the “pilgrim Church” for those recently Confirmed and for the faithful of the Old Roman apostolate.
The Sanctuary is composed of a cluster of seven chapels and churches. Above them higher up the cliff face is the castle that was built to protect the Sanctuary and below is the town that grew up to accommodate the pilgrims who came to visit.
The 12th to 13th centuries marked the town’s apogee, when much of the building work took place. Royalty and religious and military leaders were among the visitors. But this highpoint was short lived. A combination of wars, epidemics, climate change and consequent famines considerably reduced the population and prevented people going on pilgrimages. Protestant mercenaries sacked the town during the Wars of Religion, and despite sporadic attempts to rebuild it, Rocamadour remained largely forgotten until the 19th century.
The impressive task of restoring the sanctuaries in the 19th century can be attributed to the efforts of two individuals, the Abbot of Caillau who had been miraculously cured by the intercession of Our Lady of Rocamadour, and Bishop Bardou of Cahors who organised the fundraising. The Abbot of Chevalt of the Montabaun diocese directed the restoration works. These men particularly are to be credited with the restoration of the old buildings filled with so much passion and feeling.
Legend has it that Rocamadour was home to a hermit, Zaccheus of Jericho, who is said to have personally spoken to Jesus. He died in 70AD and was buried at Rocamadour. The Virgin Mary was worshipped in Rocamadour from the 9th century but in 1166 a perfectly preserved body was found which was said by some to be Zacchaeus and by others to be Saint Amadour, a hermit who lived in the caves. The Abbot of Mont Saint-Michel, Robert de Thorigny a chronicler of the time wrote;
“In 1166, an inhabitant of the area at the end of his days, ordered his family (perhaps by Divine inspiration) to bury his body at the entrance to the shrine. Hardly had they begun digging, when the body of the blessed Amadour was found in its integrity. It was placed in the church, close to the altar for the worship of pilgrims. In this spot, so many extraordinary miracles occurred through the power of the Most Holy Virgin that King Henry II of England, who was at Castelnau de Bretenoux, came himself to worship.”
Either way the discovery caused the pilgrims to come flocking and Rocamadour became a major pilgrim destination. The body was found with a black wooden statue which has since been linked to many miracles and the Black Madonna attracts many pilgrims including, in the past, King Louis XI of France and King Henry II of England.
During the Middle Ages Rocamadour was the third most important pilgrimage destination in the world after the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela. It still receives around one million pilgrims each year, some of them on “the Camino”.
Between the town and the Sanctuary is a steep staircase called the Grand Escalier which is composed of 216 steps. Pilgrims once climbed these steps on their knees as an act of penance with heavy chains around their necks that were taken off when they reached the top.
The pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Rocamadour was a deeply spiritual experience for both the Archbishop and the pilgrims. As they made their way up the steep winding path to the sanctuary, they were reminded of the challenges and sacrifices that come with their faith and the courage and persistence of previous pilgrims who for centuries had trod the same path. The views of the surrounding landscape served as a constant reminder of God’s creation and the beauty of the world.
At the centre of the Sanctuary is a small square called the Parvis des Eglises. Surrounding this are the different chapels and churches which have been built in a beautiful ornate style with towers, arched windows, crenellated walls and many more decorative features.
The Basilica Saint-Sauveur is an 11th to 13th century church built in Romanesque-Gothic style. It was designated a basilica in 1913. The basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next to the basilica is the Chapel of Notre-Dame which is home to the statue of the Black Madonna.
The Black Madonna is linked to many miracles and especially to the saving of lives at sea. Because of this there are many ex-votos (offerings) of ships hung on the walls and hanging from the ceiling is a bell which is said to ring each time a miracle happens. Women came to pray for her intercession, especially to grant them fertility.
Above the chapel is a sword called the Durandel sword. According to legend when Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne was badly injured in battle he begged the Archangel Michael to save his sword from the enemy. He threw it into the air and it miraculously landed in the rock face at Rocamadour 300 km away.
Upon reaching the sanctuary, the Archbishop lead the congregation in prayer and reflection. The pilgrims offered their intentions and sought solace in the presence of the Virgin Mary. The atmosphere of the chapel is filled with a sense of peace and serenity, allowing pilgrims to connect with their inner selves and deepen their relationship with God.
During the pilgrimage, individuals had the chance to interact with clergy members and fellow believers. They shared their faith stories, participated in discussions, and enhanced their sense of community. The Archbishop’s presence symbolized guidance and support, reminding everyone that they are not alone on their spiritual journey.
Throughout the pilgrimage, the pilgrims were encouraged to engage in acts of self-reflection and repentance. The chance to confess their sins, seek forgiveness, and renew their commitment to living a life of faith. This process of introspection allowed them to shed their burdens and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and devotion.
The pilgrimage Notre Dame de Rocamadour is not just a physical journey, but a transformative experience for the pilgrims. It is a time for them to step away from distractions of everyday life and focus on their spiritual well-being. The serene and sacred atmosphere of the sanctuary provides the perfect setting for this introspection and renewal
As the close of the pilgrimage, the Archbishop addressed the congregation, offering words of encouragement reminding the importance of their faith. He emphasized the need to carry the lessons learned during the pilgrimage into their daily lives, spreading love, compassion, and understanding to encounter.
The annual visitation and pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Rocamadour served as a powerful symbol of faith, unity, and devotion. It was a time for the clergy and the faithful to come together, reaffirm their commitment to their beliefs, and find solace in the presence of the Virgin Mary. The pilgrimage offered an opportunity for prayer and renewal, leaving the pilgrims with a strengthened faith and a deeper connection to their spirituality.