We visited one final cave while we are still in the Dordogne region, the Grotto of Pech-Merle. This cave was very interesting just for its geology, which rivals Carlsbad Caverns in some spots, with limestone formations that are breathtaking, and galleries that suggest the cathedrals to come.
However, it is also the repository of 27,000 year-old cave paintings, that were as stunning as any we have seen. The presence of humanity is also quite touching – the artist’s negative impression of his hands, and the footprint of an adolescent boy.
Why were they here? These people did not live in caves, but in tents outside of them. It is believed that the caves were used for ceremonial purposes, and that the drawings and paintings served as spiritual reflections. Who knows? But it is easy to imagine ceremonies taking place in some of the majestic caverns we have seen, which must have been magical by the light of flickering oil lamps.
We next visited the city of Rocamadour, which is one of the most famous religious pilgrimage sites in France. Once again, the stone has protected and preserved what the past held sacred.
St. Amadour may or may not have been a disciple of Jesus who fled Palestine and came here to preach, or he may just have been a hermit in whose name miracles were documented, making Rocamadour a very important place in the middle ages. On major holy days, up to 30,000 people would come to this small town, built on three levels into solid rock. The town itself is on the lowest level; the churches are on the middle level; and the castle is on top in a strong defensive position. In the 13th century, this was the place to come for pardons and indulgences.
There are several churches and chapels to visit. One contains a famous statue of the Virgin, called the Black Madonna, carved in walnut and dating from the 12th century. Look closely and see what legend says is the great iron sword of Roland, known as Durandal. Roland was a real but quite mythologized Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who died in battle in 778. The myth says that Archangel Michael implanted the sword in the rock so that it would not fall into the hands of the infidels, as Roland was surrounded during a battle. Great story.
On our way, we had lunch in the town of Grammat, at the lovely Le Relais Gourmands. Michelin was right to recommend it!