Saint Michael’s Mount (French Le Mont-Saint-Michel) – is the Mount Michael the Archangel, located on a rocky fortress island 400 kilometers northwest of Paris, on the very border of Normandy. An ancient monastery, abbey, fortress and one of the most interesting places in the history of France. Occupying a strategic location, this island was an important fortified area and fortress. According to legend, on October 16, 709, Archangel Michael, “the head of the heavenly warriors,” gave the Bishop of Avranches Saint Aubert the task of building a church on a rock. It is known that in 966, at the request of the Duke of Normandy, the Benedictine community was located on a rock. In the 12th century, Romanesque monastic buildings were to the west and to the south. In the 13th century, the French king Philip Auguste, in whose army there were Bretons, captured Normandy, and the Breton soldiers burned Mont-Saint-Michel.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, during the Hundred Years War, the British, who besieged the abbey, were unable to capture the monastery. The city was almost destroyed. The Romanesque choir of the abbey church, destroyed in 1421, was replaced by a Gothic one at the end of the Middle Ages. This great spiritual and intellectual hearth with Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostele, one of the most important pilgrims of the medieval West. For a thousand years, men, women, children, went to the monastery, calling this pilgrimage “the road of Paradise.” In 1863, Mont Saint-Michel became a prison, many of the prisoners were political opponents of the ruling regimes of France. The abbey required serious restoration work, which was carried out from the end of the 19th century. In 1874, the restoration was entrusted to the State Service for the Preservation of Historical Monuments. The celebration of the millennium of monasticism in 1966 preceded the formation of a religious community in the abbey box, perpetuating the purpose of this place. The Brothers and Sisters of the Monastic Brotherhoods of Jerusalem have confirmed this spiritual presence since 2001. Since 1979, Mont Saint-Michel has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List, today this tourist destination is visited by more than two million tourists a year.
Sacralité of the Holy Rocky Island. France, as you know, is rich in historical monuments, but there are special places that attract the attention of both tourists and pilgrims – monasteries. One of them will be discussed. This is Mont Saint Michel.
Normandy is a place that still preserves its pristine nature and in its bosom is kept a relic of the Catholic Church – the monastery “Mountains of St. Michael”. The place has been known since the time of the Celts as a cult place of the Druids and it was called the “Grave Hill”, which was not ignored by the Roman legionnaires. There is even a legend that the remains of the great Roman commander, Julius Caesar, are buried here. But before the arrival of the conquerors, the Celtic priests on a gloomy rock, washed from three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, created a cult of worship of the setting sun. But in the 5th century, water cut off the rock from the mainland, and the special mystery of the water element was that at low tide, the ocean opened a dangerous passage to the rock, which became an island. There is a wonderful church tradition, how the Grave Hill became the Mount of St. Michael, in French – Mont Saint Michel. In 708, the Archangel Michael, the Archangel Michael, appeared to the local bishop from the town of Avranches. Tradition even preserved the name of this priest – Ober, who was later canonized as a holy ascetic. Some say that the phenomenon was in a dream, others in reality, but it was the archangel who ordered the construction of a chapel on the island, which was built with the miraculous appearance of a spring from the rock, where Bishop Ober struck with his staff. There is no other source of fresh water on the island. The bishop himself received a dent on his forehead from the archangel, as a reminder that doubts do not allow one to gain the ardor of the Faith, which works miracles. The chapel was named after Saint Michael, and the name soon spread to the entire rocky island.
Pilgrimages began, and miracles began to happen – the pregnant pilgrim was saved when she did not drown in the tide, but remained, as it were, in an empty well, through prayers to the Virgin Mary. In memory of this, in 1011, the Cross was installed by the then rector of the abbey, Gilbert. And the Memorial Cross stood for a long time until it was washed away by the waves of the Atlantic. After 12 years, a church was built instead of the chapel, and the construction stretched out a little, a lot for a whole hundred years. In the year when the crusaders captured Constantinople (1204), France annexed Normandy, and the French king burned the island fortress-monastery. But before that, the Normans, as well as the Vikings, managed to take charge here. The monastery became an important outpost on the border with Brittany, and in 966 the monastic order of St. Benedict founded a monastery here with the status of an abbey, and from the 12th century it became one of the centers of pilgrimage in Western Europe. After a tragic fire due to hostilities, King Philip Augustus generously endows the building restoration of Mont Saint Michel, but in the Gothic style, which became the abbey of La Merveil (French Miracle).
During the Hundred Years’ War, the monastery on the island again becomes a fortress, which the British never managed to capture, and this example was the inspiration for the feat of Joan of Arc. When the battles subsided, Mont Saint-Michel became the center of attraction for children’s pilgrimage, who rushed here from all over Europe, often leaving even their parents. In the second half of the 15th century, King Louis XI first founded a knightly order in the name of Michael the Archangel within the walls of the monastery (but when the order was established, the king ordered that the knights, once a year, gather for an order feast in the chapel of St. Michael. But to go to such the distance, as if on a pilgrimage, the knights did not want. Then, the meeting place was the chapel of the same name in Paris), and then returns to this island the sad glory of the “grave rock” – a prison cell invented by Cardinal Balu is installed there, and at the same time the monastery continued to be monastic abode. The cage served for more than 300 years, and was removed only in 1777. The pragmatism of the kings was also transmitted after the French Revolution, which expelled the monks and made the island a prison, and under Napoleonic rule, the monastery completely became a state prison for dangerous criminals, having existed for quite a long time. Only in 1863 it was closed. The monastery was not restored, but Mont Saint Michel was declared a national treasure, and three years before the end of the 19th century, the central cathedral was crowned with a spire (in neo-Gothic style) and a 500-kilogram gilded figure of the archangel.
“Pyramid in the ocean” – so Victor Hugo called the abbey of Mont Saint Michel. Many of the French literary classics came here. Among them: Gustave Flaubert, Pierre Corneille, including Guy de Maupassant. In 1874 the Benedictines returned and founded a new abbey. At the end of the 19th century, the restoration of the complex began, which continues to this day. The 20th century brought two world wars to France, but the Lord had mercy on these blessed lands, and the “Mountain of St. Michael” did not have to endure much destruction. The First World War spared the lands of Normandy, including Mont Saint-Michel. And during the Second World War, the Germans occupied this territory, but God had mercy here too, and it ended on June 6, 1944 during the landing of the allies on the French coast of Normandy (see D-Day tour). The war in these places became one of the pages of distant and near history, and in the year of the 1000th anniversary of the abbey (1966), the status of the current one was returned to the monastery, which it is to this day.
The abbey and the historical complex of Mont Saint-Michel was included in the UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity in 1979, and more than 3 million tourists visit it every year, and the French proudly call it “the eighth wonder of the world.
Cinematography of the twentieth century noted the virtues of the Sacred Rocky Island – “Incorrigible” (French comedy directed by Philippe de Broca with the participation of Jean-Paul Belmondo, released in 1975). For contemporaries of the 21st century, the sacredness of the monastery and the attraction of pilgrims are already being replaced by the curiosity of tourism. And contemporary art. The island-castle of Mont Saint-Michel was the prototype of the fortress of Minas Tirith in the popular film “The Lord of the Rings” based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien. The famous English composer-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield dedicated the song of the same name to the island in the album Voyager.
Mont-Saint-Michel is located on the very border of Normandy and Brittany, these two French provinces have long disputed it with each other. Calling Mont Saint-Michel an island is not entirely correct: the rock is separated from the shore by 6 kilometers of water that leaves at low tide. In the second half of another century, a dam was built between the coast and the rock, and now Mont Saint-Michel becomes a real island 2 times a year – during the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the tides are especially strong, and the dam is also hidden under water. And before the appearance of the dam, only these days it was possible to reach the monastery by dry land during low tide, and even then the viscous silt did not contribute much joy to such a journey, so the most important solution to the problem is a bridge. To connect the object with the mainland, a dam was built. But it disrupted the circulation of water in the bay, and the unfavorable environmental situation in the bay forced us to look for an alternative option. Soon the dam will be liquidated, and instead of it, a bridge will still be built. No wonder the Archangel Michael came three times and ordered the construction to begin. However, until he knocked on the head of the Bishop, things did not go well. In March 2015, due to an eclipse of the sun, the tide was so strong that it flooded the dam. The height of the water reached 14 meters – this is almost a 5-story building. This phenomenon occurs about once every 20 years – on the days of the spring or summer equinox. This island itself is granite, and when the water leaves there is silt and wet viscous sand. Normandy, which still officially includes Mont Saint-Michel, is famous not only for horses and cattle. On its territory there are roe deer and red deer, many birds: tits, thrushes, woodpeckers, nightingales, etc. The mild oceanic climate and soil fertility are ideal conditions for the development of agriculture, mainly animal husbandry and fruit growing. And although all this is nearby, it is an integral part of the heritage of the abbey. You can visit half of the premises of the abbey, access to the rest is closed. Rooms that are not of interest to visitors were taken over by monks.
Museum and the tourist practical information:
The abbey is open to visitors all year round, except on December 25, January 1 and May 1. Opening hours in summer: from 9.00 to 19.00; in winter – from 9.30 to 18.00. Entrance fee to this large museum: 9 euros for adults, 5.5 euros for young people (under 25), children under 18 are free. Masses are held in the cathedral every day except Mondays. On Sundays the service starts at 11.30, on other days – 12.15. If you want to attend Mass, you must arrive 15 minutes before the start, entry is prohibited during the service.
On the coast of the bay of Mont Saint-Michel, the tide schedule is in all public places: in hotels, restaurants and beaches. It can hardly be said that this is very dangerous – the water rises at about the speed of a walking pedestrian, but during full moons and equinoxes the wave can be fast and high, so warnings are posted everywhere so that people do not forget to look at the clock and do not enter on the bare the seabed is too far away.
In general, this part of the coast is famous for its strong tides: the water level rises by 12-15 meters, and due to the flat sandy bottom, it recedes at low tide by 15-20 kilometers. The spectacle is extraordinary!
The tour to the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel starts on the southern slope of the mountain and goes through a real medieval city, surrounded by a powerful fortress wall. Compare this fortification in the photo during high tide and after low tide. It is interesting to see the view of the abbey a hundred years ago on an old photo postcard before starting the trip.
Behind the stone Royal Gates begins the “central” street of the city of Grand Rue. Past restaurants, hotels and numerous souvenir shops, it leads to the tower, from which the stairs leading to the abbey begin. The climb is quite long and tiring, so if you are traveling with a child, it may be wiser to limit yourself to the lower town.
At the Mont Saint Michel Museum you will see:
* thousand years of history of the abbey and fortress
* medieval dungeons, moves
* prisons and prison cells, punishment cells
* church buildings and structures, towers
* panoramic views of the surroundings of the bay with ebbs and flows
Time has completely changed the appearance of the holy place, instead of pilgrims from Europe, a huge number of tourists from all over the world and most of all from Asia. And now no one is surprised by the crowds of Chinese that the bridge has already been built, and that in July, instead of church services for visitors, a “beach boom” comes.
Beach holidays, swimming. Recently, there has been literally an influx of tourists who combine “useful with pleasant” and those who like to relax on local beaches after a tour of medieval buildings. In summer, everyone likes to wander along the coast, sunbathe, and in some places even swim.
The Rest with children, tours for schoolchildren and Christian youth.
For several centuries, pilgrims from all over the world have been coming here with their children, raising them in the spirit of traditional Christian values. The abbey of Mont Saint Michel is an object of world history and interesting for today’s youth. And now the island is a favorite place of pilgrimage for Christian youth organizations: scouts, Orthodox knights, the Christian Union of Young People and other associations.
- Sightseeing or WW2 battlefield private tours to Normandy from Paris, from Charles de Gaulle airport (Orly, Beauvais) or Disneyland for one day or 2-3 days with an overnight stay along the route.