Pilgrimage Sites

Trip Start Jun 01, 2012
Trip End Aug 13, 2012

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Where I stayed
Etap Hotel, Carcassonne, France

Flag of France  , Midi-Pyrénées,
Thursday, July 5, 2012

So the weather wasn't that kind to us today. Lots of rain. We got lucky while we were in Rocamadour, as the rain held off to allow us to wander freely. Rocamadour is amazing. A pilgrimage site both in its own right and along the way to St. James of Compostela, it sits high on a cliff face. On our way to it, still driving, we were struck by the beauty of the landscape, or more accurately, the geology. There wasn't much 'scape to see, tucked in as the road was between cliffs and forest. Ben got a better view than I did, for I was driving and concentrating on the twisty road. Not as bad as in Greece -- France has guard rails, though I often wondered how sturdy those wooden fences really were -- but the locals take the turns at speed and out of their own lane. The worst is trucks. But I digress. As we came in to l'Hospitalet we got our first view of the castle and church. From a distance, the castle is the more amazing of the two buildings, sitting atop the cliff, light streaming through the crenelations. The church at first looks like an unimaginative rectangle. Take a look at the pictures, you'll see. 

Getting out of the car at l'Hospitalet, having found a nice parking spot and doubting the ability to park easily nearer to the town, not to mention anticipating numerous photographic opportunities, we walked around the edge of the valley to reach the castle. There was an option for either an elevator or funicular down to the town, but we declined. I'm glad we did. The castle is in private hands, so we didn't see much of it beyond the outer walls, but the rest of the site was open to visitors. We first strolled (or rather, gingerly stepped, given the slickness of the rain on the stones) down Way of the Cross, a path that led us past a shrine cut far into the rock, and then dotted at each switchback with a station of the cross. The church and chapel were gorgeous, less for their specific artistry than in how they sprang from the rock face. We did our best to get pictures of the effect from various angles. On our walk back to the car, we passed through the old Hoptial and chapel of St. John the Baptist, most of the former now little more than rubble, though some of the out buildings have been converted into modern-day shops or dwellings and bear little plaques indicating what they used to be.

The drive was a rainy one. We stopped to take a picture or two of a couple castles, one above Port d'Agres and another at Rouffillac, before we came to Conques. Conques is home to the abbey of St. Foy, a well-known pilgrimage site from the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the rain was now around to stay. We got a small pocket of respite, but that was all. We were rather wet by the time we got back to the car. Conques was beautiful. Extremely picturesque (minus the rain), with slate roofs very different from any we'd seen before.

Now we're in Carcassonne and plan to spend the day exploring the town, possibly escaping off to a winery or two in the afternoon. I'll get around to uploading pictures tonight.
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