Fr Ian reflects while on pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady, Roacamadour
Landscape, layers of legend, the insight of religious people, devotion, all combine at Rocamadour in central France, to make a captivating sacred place between earth and sky, a place of enchantment where material and spiritual worlds intermingle.
For over 20,000 years, since Paleolithic times, worship of some form has been held in the area of Rocamadour and legend tells how St Amadour, a servant of Mary, (identified in the Middle Ages as Zaccheus of the Gospels) settled here. In the twelfth century his burial place was discovered during building work in the church. Medieval kings (including Henry II of England), and saints have come on pilgrimage here. More recent pilgrims have included Pope St John XXIII and Francis Poulenc, whose spiritual experience here, he said, was the major inspiration for his religious music.
Rocamadour has known turmoil. The grave of St Amadour was destroyed by Protestant pillagers in the seventeenth century. The shrine fell into disrepair until nineteenth century priests and people worked for its restoration. Throughout, since the twelfth century, the striking and somewhat enigmatic statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour has remained the focus for pilgrimage and prayer at Rocamdour. The primitive design of the small wooden statue, and its naive simplicity, evokes the long history of this special place and the simple welcoming femininity of the Mother of Jesus – quite simply it is an object of wonder.
This is not a Marian shrine like Lourdes or Fatima or even Walsingham. It is not an organised pilgrimage place with ‘pilgrim schedules’ and set devotions. Rocamadour is rather a place, a space, of beauty to come to and be still, as the official guide says, “to admire, to contemplate, to pray.” Many do come; many as tourists to the medieval town, many as none believers or half believers. Believers of different forms come, many looking, as the local Bishop says, “for protection and comfort from Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” Rocamadour is a place to rest in and a place to wonder. All are welcome.
And its message? For me Rocamadour encourages us to seek out places of wonder and peace in our lives, and stimulates in us a vision to build up churches which welcome, and offer a place of peace and wonder, encouraging all to admire, contemplate and pray.