A Medieval Abbey in Normandy
Mont St-Michel is a popular French tourist attraction, which in the words of Victor Hugo is to France what the Great Pyramid is to Egypt.The slender towers and sky-scraping turrets of the abbey rising from stout ramparts took my breath away. The whole ensemble is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway and on the highest point of the abbey gold-looking point can be seen from all over town.Situated on an islet in Normandy, near Pontorson, the abbey and its surrounding bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Around 1.3 million tourists a year make their way to this famous shrine.
Visting this site was a great pleasure. We arrived from Fougères by car, about a 50 minute drive, passing across coastal farmland and through charming little towns. Near the end of the causeway, there is still a 30 minute walk. The town provides luxury coaches with cushioned seats for free and bikes are also available.But we decided to walk to get a better sightseeing experiences.
The lower part of the island is a town, although it caters to tourists, who most of them happen to be from Asia. The narrow stone streets are full of shops and cafés, and are often packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. We wanted to see the Abbey and the Church, which are at the top of the rock, so we had to climb a series of staircases.
At the top of the steps, we bought entrances to visit the church and abbey. The admission price (13 euro) included guided tour.Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly and a joy to spend the day with. I would have enjoyed the visit without the guide, but it wouldn’t have been as interesting.
Once inside the gate, we were instantly transported back to medieval times. We walked up the grand stairs, along the Rue Grande, in a splendid ascendance, to the abbey entrance where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the area. With its shining spires and glittering domes, the skyline is impressively multi-denominational.
The abbey dates back to the eighth century, when the archangel supposedly appeared to a bishop of Avrnaches, Aubert, who duly founded a monastery on the island. Since the eleventh century-when work on the sturdy church at the peak commenced- new buildings have been grafted onto the island to produce a fortified building, forming the most recognizable silhouette in France after the Eiffel Tower. In the 18th century, many of the religious institutions in France had lost popularity, and it was closed, left to ruin, and turned into a prison for a time. In 1863, the prison closed, and in 1874, the island was designated a historic site.
Striking semi circular wooden ceiling of the refectory in Mont Saint-Michel where monks used to have meals and read sacred text. The wooden pattern seems to radiate outward.
It is a surprise how they built the church so high on the point of the mountain, and how it was balanced and basically built around the rock. It’s quite a feat of engineering, especially considering that the oldest parts of the church were built before 1000 A.D.