You have to be careful not say the route to Santiago de Compostella, but rather the routes to Santiago: the routes as we know them today, in other words, we now say that there are 4 great routes; these are modern inventions, which appeared in 1974.
Usually, a pilgrim departs from his hometown. So he doesn’t depart from Le Puy unless he lives in Le Puy. He leaves home and heads towards Santiago de Compostella, either on the most direct route or via various other pilgrimage routes, on the way. And all of the routes we speak of today, the four great routes: Tours, Le Puy, Vézelay and Saint-Gilles themselves are individual pilgrimage routes; each town is a pilgrimage spot.
So, for us, this Rocamadour route was instigated by Tulle’s monks to enable pilgrims on their way to Rocamadour access to an acceptable route, one that was logical and straight, so it was mainly for people arriving from the North of France as well as Belgium and Holland. It also enabled those who were on their way to Compostella, to travel via Rocamadour, since this route heads all the way to Compostella.
In 2009, a small group of friends and I said: “well, why not create an association an try to re-create the route the way it was in the Middle Ages ?”
So this route begins in Bénévent-l'Abbaye. Bénévent-l'Abbaye is a step on the Vézelay route, right after the step in La Souterraine. It crosses the Millevaches plateau, the Monédières, Bourganeuf, Eymoutiers, Treignac and then it heads down to Tulle. From Tulle, it goes to Aubazine with its pilgrimage spot : Saint-Étienne’s tomb, and then from Aubazine-Collonges, Collonges-Martel and Martel-Rocamadour.
In order to link one area to another, first we selected lovely routes and then we connected villages and small towns where there were pre-existing Compostella traces.
For example, in Eymoutiers, there are 3 pilgrims hiding on the glass walls. Collonges has a St James chapel, and so on. There are many Compostella testimonies along the way.
Little by little and step by step, once the outline was validated, we searched for useful information such as accommodation. We decided to create a guide book containing information about history, heritage, monuments and the environment, because nature is an essential part of the Compostella guide books. And the route opened on 2nd July, 2011.
There are 260kms from Bénévent to Rocamadour, which means a 12 to 13 day walk, depending on the pace. Some pilgrims take less time to walk the distance. And now, this route enables them to go all the way to La Romieux in 9 extra days or to Cahors in 3 extra days, so that’s a little over 620kms described in the new guide. Our current number of visitors is 2.600 per year.
It took us 2 years and 4 months to set up the project. The first pilgrims walked the route in June despite the fact that it only opened officially in July. They followed the people who were responsible for marking the route, and the first pilgrims found the guide in Tulle. They followed the route without a guide book to start out with. They had simply received the outline by e-mail and they followed it and arrived in Rocamadour nonetheless.