Thursday, November 18, 2010

Le Mont Saint Michel

After our holidays, we met up again in Paris, and drove several hours north to the coast of Normandy.  Oh what stunning countryside!  I kept thinking to myself that, if I win the lottery, I will buy an old farm house here, renovate it, and settle there for the rest of my life.  While I was imagining this, and as we (Mark, Debbie & Jen) were driving through picturesque little coastal villages, suddenly there appeared, like a mirage in the distance, a singular mountain in the water, with a church sitting prominently on top of it, as if it was a natural outgrowth of that rock.  The image was completely out of place, not in keeping with the picturesque farmland, as if it was some vestige left by intergalactic visitors.  Much to my surprise, we would spend the night there, on that rocky isle.  Although I had seen postcards of Le Mont Saint Michel, it was so much more impressive to stand before it in person. Once surrounded by water on all sides, it is now reachable by car thanks to a man-made causeway:

Several centuries ago, I suppose one had to ride a horse into the water to get to it.  In the Early Middle Ages, all that was there was a huge granite rock that jutted out from the sea.  At that time, it was apparently inhabited by hermits, about which we know next to nothing.  According to legend, in the eighth century, the Bishop of Avranches (a nearby town that lies to the southeast) was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael, who told him to "build a church upon the rock."  Presumably, he sought a means of enhancing the stature of his diocese by building a pilgrimage church.  The initial foundation was made possible by slave labour.  Prisoners were used to quarry granite on the mainland, and haul large slabs of it up via wheel & pulley to the top of the mountain. The bishop did not live to see the completion of the church. It would take another five centuries before it was finally done:

View of abbey from the causeway.  Gothic spire with Archangel Michael.

A Benedictine community of monks became established on the rock.  They had very close ties with the Dukes of Normandy, who must have largely financed the construction of the abbey and church.  When the Normans invaded England in 1077 (everyone remembers this date!), the monks of Mont Saint Michel supported their efforts.  In return, William the Conqueror gave them a large parcel of land on the coast of England, in Cornwall, where they built an abbey on a rocky island similar to their own. It is now called "Saint Michael's Mount."

Mont Saint Michel was later fortified with defensive
walls and towers in the fourteenth & fifteenth centuries.  It was one of the few places in France which the English could not conquer during the Hundred Year's War.  When you're there, it's plain to see why the English could not take the mount ... even if they had managed to cross the water and arrive at its base safely, what awaited them was an incredibly steep climb up to the top ... with large walls blocking the path. Because Mont Saint Michel was inviolable during the Hundred Year's War, it is regarded in France today as an important national symbol.

Arched entrance to left of church led to our sleeping quarters!
Walled pathway to church on mount.

View of the Normandy coast from church above.

Jen just had her bank card eaten!  Kerstin waits for Melanie to get tweezers!

Just call me "Lenushka"!


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