Friday, 30 May 2003
L’Hospitalet is the settlement that grew up in the eleventh century near the holy relics of Rocamadour, to accommodate the flocks of pilgrims. It is the same now – hotels, gift shops and eateries crowd round the top of the Voie Sainte, which descends to the chapel of the Black Virgin halfway down the cliff face.
For miracle-fanciers, Rocamadour is a treat. Not only is there the Black Virgin herself (protective against shipwrecks and scurvy), but there is the place where the body of the hermit Amadour was discovered, untouched by decay after centuries.
Then there is the Sword of Roland embedded in the rock face, having been thrown by Saint Michael from the Spanish border when its owner Roland lay dying.
Serious pilgrims used to make the ascent of the last staircase on their knees and condemned criminals could choose to walk to Rocamadour in their leg-irons instead of going to prison.
The single street, just below the chapel, is now dedicated to Mammon.
We retreated to l’Hospitalet for morning coffee in a shady terrace, and spent the rest of the day stretched out on our bedrolls under a tree.
As evening came on, we went to the promontory where you can look down on Rocamadour, glowing in the sunset. Penny joined us for dinner and we said goodbye to her at the restaurant, as she was not walking any further.
There is a railway station 3 km north-east of l’Hospitalet. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France.