Our Lady of Rocamadour
by Zsolt Aradi
On a precipice above a labyrinthine valley near Toulouse in France stands one of Christendom's earliest shrines, which in the Middle Ages claimed equal importance with the holy places of Rome and Palestine. Historians date the shrine from the twelfth century but according to legend, the founder of the shrine was a man named Zaccheus of Jericho who knew Christ and was honored by having been addressed by Our Lord. Zaccheus is supposed to have founded a hermitage in a cave near the River Alzou and called it Amadour, which means "the Man who Loves God." By popular belief the shrine of Our Lady of Rocamadour would date back to the first century because according to tradition, Zaccheus died in the year 70. Charlemagne, on his way to battle the Moors in Spain, is supposed to have visited this shrine. There is ample historical evidence that large parts of the population of Spain and France considered Our Lady of Rocamadour as their protectress, especially those who journeyed as pilgrims to the famous shrine of St. James the Apostle at Compostela in Spain, and encountered Our Lady of Rocamadour on the way during this trip.
Two hundred sixteen steps lead from the valley up to the shrine and Basilica. Pilgrims climb these on their knees. Charlemagne, St. Louis, King of France, and Henry II, King of England, are believed to have climbed these stairs.
The statue of the Madonna, no less than eight hundred years old, is made of wood. At one time, it was covered with silver, as many other similar statues in France and Belgium of the same age; the expression of Our Lady is one of great suffering. Rocamadour has the atmosphere of a medieval stronghold and it was, in fact, fortified several times. Its great historical treasures are innumerable, nevertheless the sanctuary emanates living faith, no less ardent than during the Middle Ages, and the faithful climb the 216 stairs with the same sense of devotion and penance as did their ancestors.
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