Monday, June 7, 2010

Le Mont Saint - Michel

One of my fondest memories when I was a child was visiting Le Mont Saint-Michel, one of the wonders of the world. The only way to access the small island, north of France in the Normandy region is by waiting for low tide so we could cross over. I remember the colorful market place in the town below the Abbey and then climbing up to reach the courtyard and main spire of the abbey, after that racing against time as the high tide was getting closer and covering up the only way to the main land. Abdulaziz and I are currently reading about it and medieval fortifications found in France, and inshallah if we are alive by next Feb, we'll be visiting it ;)
Aerial View... Just take care you don't get caught when its high tide ;)
Mont Saint -Michel at night
The Spire of the Mont Saint-Michel is visible from the courtyard outside the abbey
William de Volpiano, the Italian architect who had built the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, was chosen as building contractor by Richard II of Normandy in the 11th century. He designed the Romanesque church of the abbey, daringly placing the transept crossing at the top of the mount. Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for this weight; these formed the basis for the supportive upward structure that can be seen today. Today Mont-Saint-Michel is seen as a Gothic-style church. Robert de Thorigny, a great supporter of Henry II of England (who was also Duke of Normandy), reinforced the structure of the buildings and built the main façade of the church in the 12th century. In 1204 the Breton Guy de Thouars, allied to the King of France, undertook the siege of the Mount. After having set fire to the village and having massacred the population, he was obliged to beat a retreat under the powerful walls of the abbey. Unfortunately, the fire which he himself lit extended to the buildings, and the roofs fell prey to the flames. Horrified by the cruelty and the exactions of his Breton ally, Philip Augustus offered Abbot Jourdain a grant for the construction of a new Gothic-style architectural set which included the addition of the refectory and cloister. Charles VI is credited with adding major fortifications to the abbey-mount, building towers, successive courtyards and strengthening the ramparts.
Mont-Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Romano-Breton culture and power, until it was ransacked by the Franks, thus ending the trans-channel culture that had stood since the departure of the Romans in AD 460. Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called "monte tombe". According to legend, St. Michael the Archangel appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until St. Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger. The mount gained strategic significance in 933 when William "Long Sword", William I, Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula, definitively placing the mount in Normandy. It is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England. Ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries. In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island located at the west of Cornwall, which, modelled after the Mount, became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance. During the Hundred Years' War the English made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey's improved fortifications. Les Michelettes, two wrought-iron bombards left by the English in their failed 1423–24 siege of Mont-Saint-Michel, are still displayed near the outer defense wall. When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1496 he intended that the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel be the chapel for the order, but because of its great distance from Paris his intention could never be realized. The wealth and influence of the abbey extended to many daughter foundations, including St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. However, its popularity and prestige as a centre of pilgrimage waned with the Reformation, and by the time of the French Revolution there were scarcely any monks in residence. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican régime. High-profile political prisoners followed, but by 1836 influential figures, including Victor Hugo, had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, as it was listed with criteria such as cultural, historical, and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.

Mont Saint-Michel Abby 1865-1895

Historical Info Courtesy of Wikipedia ;)


  1. Im dyiiiiing to go there..last time ive been to france i wanted to squeeze it into my sightseeing schedule but had no time and my family got bored with all the louvres and versailles of france (party poopers!) and i didnt want to go alone:( anywayz dont u get the feeling that it somehow inspired disney's castle?!

  2. LOL!!! My parents are history we visited every historical sights in Europe and you know what? These are the memories which stuck with me... I want the same thing for my kids. It is fun and exhilerating... and rent a car and have a map and go on a road trip!! it is an adventure and you don't know where you'll end ;)

  3. I LOVE ARCHITECTURE .. great post :D

  4. Mar8adoosh (btw my favorite drink in ramadan ;p) It is the story behind the building which is facinating ;) I love historical sights and inshallah I'll be posting more about historical places I visited and want to visit in the future ;) hope you'll like them :)