Saturday, March 17, 2012

mont st-michel.


About 1300 years ago, a sanctuary was built on top of a coastal hill in honor of Saint Michael, the Archangel. Little did St. Aubert (the sanctuary's commissioner) know back then that this humble church would turn into one of the world's most iconic locations, and one of France's largest tourist and pilgrimage sites.

Mont Saint-Michel, like the Grand-Bé and Petit-Bé in Saint Malo, is a tidal island. It is just off of the coast, a few hundred yards into the ocean and accessible by foot in low tide. Because it has become such a popular tourist & pilgrimage destination in France, however, a raised road has been built with adjacent parking lots, allowing access even in high tide. It is considered a town, with its own town hall and everything, but there are only about 50 actual, permanent residents. There are houses around the base of the hill, but the most prominent feature is the abbey at the very summit.

the abbey, with the village circling the mount

the façade of the abbey

In the 10th century, Benedictine monks moved into the church and began expanding the abbey. This community would live here until the French Revolution, surviving hundreds of year of wars, battles, and other disputes, and building up the structure to what it is today.

view out into the ocean, at low tide

from the abbey

abbey courtyard

Mont St-Michel can be a starting destination for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the ancient pilgrimage route leading from France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There are indications of its relations with the pilgrimage throughout the abbey, including in this window with small shells.

windows with seashells for el camino de santiago

The abbey has seen its fair share of uses. When the Benedictine community that had inhabited the abbey for centuries was dissolved during the French Revolution, it was turned into a prison. This contraption, a giant wheel, was constructed to be able to lower down meals to the prisoners kept in basement cells. A prison until the 1860's, Mont Saint-Michel was classified a national historic monument in 1874 and was restored to its monastic conditions.

the giant wheel.

We only stopped quickly, and took a rather brief tour through the abbey, as I knew I would be back in a few weeks with family and we were on the way back to Evreux. So Mont Saint-Michel, à très bientôt!

pax christi.

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