Rocamadour, well known for its religious city, a complex of religious buildings accessible by the Grand Staircase. Oh, and cheese.

Hors Course stage 20: A pilgrim’s route and the final cheese segment of the week

Rocamadour is the Tour’s last stop before Paris, and the stage 20 time trial visits the home of a delicious goat’s cheese.

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

A time trial on the penultimate day of the men’s Tour de France. Don’t worry. I will continue Hors Course for the Tour de France Femmes as well, but first: the final cheese segment for this week. 

The time trial finishes in Rocamadour. The name is synonymous to many things including the cheese bearing its name. It’s a goat’s cheese made with raw milk. The history of the Rocamadour goes back a long way; the cheese is already mentioned in stories from the 15th century. Because Rocamadour is located on the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, the cheese has become more famous through the pilgrims than the region itself.

The area where the goats are kept is characterized by poor, dry soil. As a result, the vegetation is sparse and dries out strongly in the summer. At least 80% of the goats’ food must come from the region, fermented food is prohibited. The limestone soil ensures that the Rocamadour has a mineral-like taste.

The Rocamadour can be eaten after two weeks, then it is mild in taste. After four weeks it starts to get really creamy and has a stronger taste. In the sixth week it will dry up and taste even stronger. In June there is the annual cheese festival celebrating all the cheeses from the region. Count me in! 

Yum.

There is much more than just cheese in beautiful Rocamadour. Legend has it that it was home to a hermit, Zaccheus of Jericho, who is said to have personally spoken to Jesus. He died in 70AD and was buried at Rocamadour. 

At first, the Virgin Mary was worshipped in Rocamadour, but in 1166 a perfectly preserved body was found. It was said by some to be that of Zaccheus or of Saint Amadour, another hermit and the name giver of the town, or of a complete unknown man. No one knows. 

After discovery, the bones of Saint Amadour were moved to the church. They survived a fire as they were held in a small reliquary in the chapel. The chapel is very simple in style with a single nave. Hanging from its ceiling is one of the oldest known clocks which dates to the 8th century. The Saint-Amadour crypt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela.

People walk on the stations of cross near the basilica in Rocamadour, on the pilgrimage route to the Black Madonna.

Whether the body was that of Zaccheus or Amadour, or whether they were actually the same person doesn’t really matter. The discovery itself caused the pilgrims to come flocking because the body was found with a black wooden statue, the Black Madonna, which has since been linked to many miracles. According to one source I found there are 170 miracles attributed to Rocamadour while Amsterdam has just one. Rocamadour thus became a major pilgrim destination with famous names like Louis XI of France and King Henry II of England.

In the fourteenth century, the century of the Hundred Years War, Rocamadour reached its peak. According to the sources, the town received as many as 30,000 pilgrims a day. That is a lot of people when you consider that Paris had roughly 100,000 inhabitants at the time. All the pilgrims all thought they were entitled to a full indulgence or direct access to heaven without being asked about your sins. This was an attractive price of course. Anyway, it was already busy here then.

But you didn’t just get it, you had to do something for it. After the pilgrim had first attended mass at a departure point, he left for Rocamadour in special clothes. Once they arrived in the town, the pilgrims stripped off their clothes, bare knees and climbed the 223-step staircase to the church with the shrines. To make it even more difficult, the pilgrim was given heavy iron chains.

I don’t know if today’s time trial will be equally challenging but let’s see. The sights of today’s broadcast will be amazing, I promise.

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