A heart for healing music

Louis Vigouroux
Priest and passionate musician Louis Vigouroux with his replica medieval lute.

© Warren Nunn September 2004. See notes below.* 

THE old man sat astride a low stone seat and lovingly caressed the ancient-looking instrument’s strings. He readily greeted a passing couple and in a smiling, gracious manner, spontaneously put on an impromptu performance.

He had a story to tell and warmed immediately to his questioners.

For half his 84 years, Louis Vigouroux has lived in the cliffside village of Rocamadour in southwest France.

Rocamadour is an extraordinary medieval village the main attraction of which is a mystical Black Virgin to which miracles are attributed. And, apart the Eiffel Tower, it is one of the most-visited sites in France.

Louis cheekily smiles and announces, "I consider myself the second monument of Rocamadour."

When he had a heart attack in his 60s, colleagues made him a replica medieval lute which he said hastened his recuperation as he lost himself in learning to master it.

He came to Rocamadour in 1952 from a role as a French Air Force chaplain and musician.

He joined St Amadour Church as choirmaster and presided over a group that won worldwide attention.

The church takes its name from the preserved remains of a man found in 1166 when preparations were being made to bury an important local.

Curiously, 400 years later, the body remained intact and became a relic of importance to the Roman Catholic Church.

Around this peculiar happening grew the village, castles and churches that now make up Rocamadour.

A wooden Madonna statue known as the Black Virgin—inextricably linked to Amadour's presence—is said to have accounted for more than 100 miracles that are recounted matter-of-factly in the Book of Miracles.

The flow of pilgrims began in the 12th century and has not stopped since. But while once the attraction was purely spiritual, the visitors now come for various reasons.

The single street that runs below the castle and church walls are filled with all types of ventures.

While the street thronged with pilgrims, creative people began to fill the stone farmhouses and barns that dot the canyon floor.

Rocamadour is in the Cahors regions in the mini-Pyrenees about 500km southwest of Paris.

*Special thanks to my great friend Chris Souilijaert who translated for me when I talked with Louis Vigouroux. And not to forget Regine Molloff who is simply a gem.