Mont St Michel
We left the Normandy coast in early afternoon after having our lunch (made at the hotel) at Ste Mere Eglise and drove about 90 miles to Mont St Michele. We got there in late afternoon and decided to reconnoiter the area in preparation for a visit the next day.Here is our first view. It was a special treat for me. Mont St Michel is a world icon and has to be seen in person to be believed. This is about as close as you can get by car. We found out that the Mont is only accessible by bike or by a free bus.
What we also saw HUGE parking lots for the visitors cars. I found this aerial shot of the area. You can see the Mont at the top, a thin line of a roadway, the polders (salt marsh fields), and finally, at the bottom, two HUGE parking lots – 4,100 spaces.
It was late in the day and the parking lots were still full. I don’t know where everyone was because the Mont island isn’t that big. What we decided was that we’d better get there early in the AM to avoid the crowds.
We left the Mont area and drove a few miles to the town of Portonson. There we found a guest house called Les Epinetts (The Spinets- pianos) and got a nice room and breakfast for 40 euros (about $50.00).
We also got a good dinner at the local hotel: Le Beauvior for 12.50 euros ($16.00). I had an AUCE salad bar an a piece of local fish. It was excellent. I forget what Archie had. Here is the hotel and my fish:
After dinner we walked around town a bit and went back to our room at the guest house. I guess I did a bit more snoring because Archie said we’d have to get separate rooms for the next night.
The next morning (Day 5 of my visit) we had breakfast with the proprietoress of the guest house.She gave us some suggestions about when to go to Mont St Michel (early). All her breakfast items were home made: breads, pancakes, rolls, etc. All was good!
We drove to the HUGE parking lot, walked to the bus station, caught the special bus to the Mont. The buses were special double ended buses. The drive didn’t have to turn around when he got to the Mont. He just got out and walked to the other end and drove away without turning.
Anyway, we took the bus to the Mont and walked to the entrance to the town. The Abbey sits on top of the Mont with a “village” below it surrounded by fortress walls.
The “Wonder of the Western World” forms a tower in the heart of an immense bay invaded by the highest tides in Europe.
Here is the history of Mt St Michel:
It was at the request of the Archangel Michel “chief of the celestial militia” that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand.
In the 11th century, the Romanesque abbey church was founded over a set of crypts where the rock comes to an apex, and the first monastery buildings were built up against its north wall.
In the 12th century, the Romanesque monastery buildings were extended to the west and south.
In the 13th century, a donation by the king of France, Philip Augustus, in the wake of his conquest of Normandy, enabled a start to be made on the Gothic section of the “Merveille “: two three-story buildings, crowned by the cloister and the refectory.
In the 14th century, the Hundred Years War made it necessary to protect the abbey behind a set of military constructions, enabling it to hold out against a siege lasting 30 years.
In the 15th century, the Romanesque chancel of the abbey church, broken down in 1421 was replaced by the Gothic Flamboyant chancel.
With Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostelle, this great spiritual and intellectual centre, was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the Medieval occident. For nearly one thousand years men, women and children went there by roads called « paths to paradise » hoping for the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel of judgement .
The Abbey was turned into a prison during the days of the French Revolution and Empire, and needed to be restored before the end of the 19th century.
With the celebration of the monastic’s 1000th anniversary, in the year 1966 a religious community moved back to what used to be the abbatial dwellings, perpetuating prayer and welcome the original vocation of this place. Friars and sisters from “Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem” have been ensuring a spiritual presence since the year 2001.
At the same time as the abbey was developing a village grew up from the Middle Age. It flourished on the south-east side of the rock surrounded by walls dated for the most part from the Hundred Years war. This village has always a commercial vocation.
UNESCO has classed the Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage in 1979 and this mecca of tourism welcomes more than three million visitors a year.
These pictures of the models below show the development of the Abbey, the village and the walls:
After the entrance gate there is the town gate: It was pretty quiet because we were early.
Here is the only street in the town. Access to everything is from this street; I took this picture as we were leaving around 11AM. Note the crowds and remember the HUGE parking lots?
Here are the stairs leading up and up to the Abbey. I got caught up with a bunch of camera wielding Japanese tourists.
This is the “top of the rock”. It is the Abbey Chuoch built in the years around 1000 AD.. It is 280 feet above sea level . The spire is what can bee seen miles away.
Inside the Church is the Chancel of the huge Gothic NaveTo the left of the Nave is the Cloister – a covered walkway connecting different parts of the Abbey.. I had one of the Japanese tourists take this picture. I toured the Abbey alone. Archie has a problem with heights and he stayed below.
This is the exterior of the Nave as seen from the Cloister Connected to the Cloister is the Refectory. The was main dining hall for the Monks.
Below the Refectory on the middle level of the Abbey is the Guest Hall. A meeting and greeting place for visiting dignitaries. Note the columns. This is what hold up the Refectory above.
Next to the Guest Hall is the Great Pillared Crypt. These massive pillars are what holds up the huge Chancel of the Nave above.
This is the Saint Martin Crypt. It holds up part of the Transept of the Nave.
Enough with Crypts and Columns. Lets look at something interesting: The Monks Ossuary (bone room). It did contain bones once, but they were moved so this giant wheel could be installed. This wheel ran a pulley system that brought food and supplies up to the prisoners during the 19th century. It was modeled after early pulleys used to haul up building material. It was powered by men – walking like gerbils inside the wheel.
I left the Abbey via these stairs, through the Gift Shop, and down the now crowded street, and met Archie at the town entrance..
For 2 days I had been whining to Archie that I needed a picture of some Normandy cows. He finally stopped so I could get this picture: They are grazing in a polder (a drained salt marsh). Local sheep that graze here have meat that is prized for its “polder flavor”.
That’s it for Mt St Michel. A great stop! Now on to Bayeux and “The Tapestry”