Mount St. Michel and the St. Michel Abbey. Located in Normandy, one of the most famous European buildings. Being of interest as well for its unusual location on a tidal island. Or the other way round. The whole structure, the fortifications, the monastery, and the small village at its foot were erected there because of the unusual location. Hardly accessible at high tide the Mount St. Michel has a fleur of seclusion but simultaneously has always been a very well defendable spot.
The internet resources say there are around three million people visiting this place yearly. This means that on average around eight thousand people visit it on a daily basis. Supposing that the crowds are bigger in summer vacation months we quite easily get at more than ten thousands a day. As there is only one way in and out, currently a newly (2014) constructed bridge serviced by shuttle buses (from a parking place 2.5 km away) at the first sight you see the crowds. But the island consists of a small village with a couple of narrow streets, fortifications and many chambers or halls on different levels in the monastery itself. In the most parts you can move freely inside. I do not think you can get lost there, but still it seems bit like a maze. This is why, there are always people around you, but you do not feel the crowds like in other very famous spots in Europe.
For the most part the buildings of the Mont St. Michel are thousand-year old, with many parts in a Roman style. But as through history much happened, the buildings were reconstructed and rebuild a couple of times, some other styles appear, too. From outside you may have the impression the structure is very coherent, but inside you can easily see the additions.
In the mid first millennium it is said there was some monastic life at this place (that time called Mont Tombe). But in 709 the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop and asked him to build in this place a church in his name. For anybody, who sometimes travels Europe for sightseeing purposes this will not be the first time as he or she hears of a building erected for this saint or renamed with his name. To explain shortly, St. Michael or Archangel Michael is a figure recognized in a number of religious systems. In Christianity he is one of archangels (usually three or seven, depending on the religion), probably the most important one. He is often presented with a sword as he is the commander of the God’s army or with a balance as he is the one, who decides a person’s fate after death sending them to heaven or hell. In the early ages the archangel was told to appear to people (important people) and ask them to build churches or monasteries in his name. Another prominent example of a famous building with this name is Castel Sant Angelo in Rome that originally was named in honour of the emperor Hadrian, but the name was changed to Sant Angelo as St. Michael appeared to one of the popes. On the picture a statue of Archangel Michael located on top of another famous church in Europe – the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris.
In the early years, for different reasons, much money was flowing into the monastery not only from pilgrims but also from nobility and princes living around. Even Rollo, the Viking pirate who raided Normandy and first devastated some of the original buildings, after his conversion to Christianity (>>>), took care of this place and financially supported the community. The monastery was thus a very affluent one, sponsoring some other communities devoted to St. Michael. The monks were no longer living the life of monks rather enjoying life than enduring the austerities of the monastic life. But all the good things end. A prince invited Benedictines to St. Michel and ordered resident monks to either leave the place or join the Benedictine order. Benedictines in turn was an order following fixed daily rules around prayer and work … (>>>). The monastic life returned to St. Michel.
With time some countries started to dissolve monasteries, the reformation wave came to the Western Europe, fewer and fewer monks stayed at St. Michel. The seclusion of this place was rediscovered by French kings, who used it as a prison. Primarily from the XV century it was only the part of the monastery, but later on during the French revolution and the Napoleonic times it was serving solely as a prison for political opponents, mainly priests and other clergy. In the late XIX the buildings were finally acknowledged as a historical monument. The prison was dissolved, all the damage repaired. The monastery life came back to this place only for a short period of time to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of establishing the Benedictine community. Today, it is said that only 30-40 people, including a number of monks and nuns are residents to this place. But, as the island has its own hotel and restaurant base, also some other people may stay the night. But still it is few in comparison to the crowds, who visit this place on daytime and low tide.
Below some other photographs of the monastery and the village.
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