Mont St Michel Normandy

mntstmcThe massive tides which touch the coast between Brittany and Normandy in France can cause problems for many unwary seafarers, but for the occupants of Mont Saint Michel near the town of Avranches those same tides also provide a form of protection. Or, at least they did during the Middle Ages when the monastery would come under attack during that period’s various wars.

Legend has it that the abbey was built at the suggestion of the Archangel Michael who is said to have appeared to St Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches in the year 708 and instructed him to build a church on one of the granite islets which dotted the mouth of the Couesnon River.

The islet, which was originally called Mont Tombe, is located about one kilometre offshore and could be reached overland during low tide, but became a proper island when the tides rose. These days Mont Saint Michel is permanently connected to the mainland thanks to a causeway that was built in 1877. More recent works have seen a dam built which better controls the flow of the tides around the causeway to prevent the build up of silt.

Sometimes referred to as the `Wonder of the West’ the islet supports a massive Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, Romanesque church and village. As you would suspect with a very prominent building as Mont St Michel the construction has been added to, rebuilt, burnt down, rebuilt in an even grander style, fortified and been protected and fought over for hundreds of years, so that now the building is still very impressive in size and scope but a mismatch of architectural styles.

The abbey has also attracted many thousands of pilgrims over the years, but these days it attracts far more tourists, about 3 million per year, than it does people making a religious pilgrimage.

During the French Revolution, the abbey was used a prison, and an extensive restoration was required to restore it. A few prison-era showpieces, like the human hamster wheel used to lift supplies in and out of the complex, have been kept.

These days there are a couple of hotels and also restaurants in the village on the island. It is still a consecrated church so Mass is still celebrated most days. Most people still visit as part of a day trip, although campervans and motor homes are allowed to overnight in the carpark for a fee.

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