Located on the tiny rocky island engulfed by furious tides of the Bay between Normandy & Brittany, a ‘Gothic-Benedictine’ abbey dedicated to the archangel Saint Michel looks keenly over France’s northwestern coast. This amazing place has served as the strategic stronghold since long past & has played heroic role in several battles fought along this coastline. The island has been serving as the ‘seat of the monastery of St. Michel’ since 8th century & is now revered as the place of pilgrimage by several devout Christians.
‘Mont Saint Michel Island’ is situated approximately one kilometer off the coast of the ‘Lower Normandy’ region in northern France, at the opening of the ‘River Couesnon’ near Avranches. The spectacular ‘Abbey of St. Michel’, nestled atop a peak of the rocky island, is the prime attraction of the place & a small town that flaunts its medieval architectures, surrounds the abbey. The island is fortified by the hefty ramparts surrounding the island which make it look like nearly invincible from a distance!
‘Mont Saint Michel’ is one of the most famous tourist destinations in France & every year, more than 3 million people visit this place. The island & its bay were listed as the ‘World Heritage Sites’ by UNESCO in 1979 & is regarded as one of the most remarkable landmarks in France.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The first stone of the monastery was laid in the 8th century on this islet which was previously known as ‘Mont Tombe’. The legend says that the ‘Archangel Michel’ summoned St. Aubert, the ‘Bishop of Avranches’, to build a church on the islet. However, the bishop repeatedly ignored the instructions of the archangel until ‘Michel’ burned a hole with his finger in the bishop’s skull! The bishop’s skull with the hole can be seen in ‘St. Gervais church’ in Avranches.
The first small church was erected & consecrated by ‘St. Aubert’ in 709 AD & the ‘Romanesque Abbey church’ was constructed atop the rocky islet later on in the 11th century. The abbey then went through the series of reformations in the 12th, 13th & the 14th century until it was replaced with an entirely new building of ‘Gothic Chancel’ in 1421 AD.
‘Mont Saint Michel’ went through the hands of several rulers after the departure of the Romans in 460 AD. It was an Armorican stronghold of ‘Gallo-Roman’ culture in the 6th & the 7th century until it was invaded by the Franks. In 867 AD, the king of Franks agreed upon handing over the ‘Avrachin’ & the ‘Cotenin peninsula’, including ‘Mont St. Michel’ to the Bretons as per the ‘Treaty of Compiegne’ since he failed to defend it against the frequent attacks of the Vikings.
The island again became the center of attraction in 933 when William ‘Long Sword’ conquered the ‘Cotentin Peninsula’ from the ‘Dukes of Brittany’. During the ‘Hundred Year’s War’, the ‘Bretons’ made successive attempts to seize the land but failed to do so due to the stern fortifications around the island.
In 1469, Louis XI of ‘France’ founded the ‘Order of St. Michel’ with the intensions of making the abbey church of ‘Mont Saint Michel’ the ‘Chapel of the Order’, but his efforts went in vain due to the island’s great distance from ‘Paris’.
The popularity of ‘Mont’ as the center of pilgrimage declined rapidly with the ‘Reformation’ & it was used as a prison during the French Revolution to incarcerate the political prisoners. Several influential personalities took initiatives to launch a campaign to restore the old glory of this island & the prison was eventually closed in 1863!
- Mont Saint Michel Abbey:
The sky-tapering, magnificent Abbey’ is the premium attraction of this islet. The abbey was originally designed in the 11th century by the Italian architect ‘William de Volpiano’. The design incorporated the features of the Romanesque architecture. ‘Robert de Thorigny’ strengthened the buildings & built the main façade. The abbey went through the successive modifications & new Gothic styled monument was constructed in 1421.
- The Parish Church:
The parish church from the 16th century, dedicated to St. Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen, can be visited as it offers a good demonstration of medieval period architecture.
- The Grande Rue:
The ‘Grande Rue’ is the main street in this walled island town. The street is flanked by the souvenir shops, houses & museums, some of which date back to the 15th & the 16th centuries. The street gets packed with the hordes of tourists who enjoy buying the souvenirs to remember their visit to this spectacular island!
‘Mont Saint Michel’ is, undoubtedly, one of the most spectacular destinations in France. The startling appearance of this place casts the magical spell & perhaps hence, it is often regarded as the ‘Wonder of West’. The stunning ‘Mont Saint Michel’ definitely deserves at least one visit of every ardent traveler around the globe!