Thursday, October 22, 2009

Feast of Our Lady of the Rock (Rocamadour, France) - click for link to visit the shrine

Today is a day dedicated to Our Lady of the Rock, enshrined in Rocamadour in France. Tradition has it, Rocamadour was the home of an early Christian hermit named Zaccheus of Jericho. It is believed that he had conversed with Jesus himself, and that he died around 70 AD. This Zaccheus is said to have been the husband of St Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus as he climbed to Calvary.

At some point after the hermit's death and burial in Rocamadour, the site became a place of pilgrimage. Some claim the town was named for the hermit because he was a "lover of rock" (roc amator). Zaccheus is also said to have brought a statue of the Black Virgin to Rocamadour, though the statue is generally dated to the 9th century. Due to the double attraction of the tomb of Zaccheus and the statue of the Virgin, pilgrims began to flock to Rocamadour. Many reported experiencing miraculous healings and conversions at the shrine. The Shrine of Our Lady of Rocamadour itself can be traced back to the twelfth century. Over the next few centuries, the numbers of pilgrims continued to increase. Many notable people came on pilgrimages to Rocamadour, including St Dominic and St Louis IX of France, and possibly even Charlemagne, on his way to battle the Moors in Spain.

The shrine eventually became so famous that kings and bishops began granting special privileges to those who made the pilgrimage. As an act of penance, pilgrims would regularly make the entire climb on their knees, as some still do today; 216 steps lead to the top of the rocky plateau on which the Chapel of Our Lady is located. The town suffered with the general decline of pilgrimages in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was heavily restored and revitalized in the 19th century.

One recent notable pilgrim to Rocamadour was the French composer Francis Poulenc (d. January 30, 1963), who stayed in the city after a religious conversion he experienced there, and in honor of which he composed his Litanies of the Black Virgin (Litanies à la Vierge Noire). Today, the tomb of the ancient saint as well as the ancient image of Our Lady make the shrine at Rocamadour a popular destination; the site receives thousands of devout pilgrims each year.

The altar of Our Lady of Rocamadour

The situation of the shrine is extraordinary, amid medieval religious fortifications giddily perched atop a precipice, surrounded by a spectacular expanse of barren countryside. The miraculous statue is equally remarkable. Our Lady appears to be resting her weight on her hands, which are supported on the arms of her chair; the Child is balanced on her left knee.


A major event occurred in 1166, when an ancient grave and sepulcher containing an undecayed body was discovered on the cliff of Rocamadour, near the Chapel of Our Lady. This was believed to be the early Christian hermit St Amadour, who is often equated with Zaccheus. It is said that Amadour, a faithful servant of the Blessed Virgin, came to Gaul and built the first chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary on French soil.

Text adopted after "A Moment with Mary"

Story of Rocamadour from Mary's Pages

Info and directions from Sacred Destinations"