Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel

( Mont-Saint-Michel )

Mont-Saint-Michel (French pronunciation: ​[lə mɔ̃ sɛ̃ miʃɛl]; Norman: Mont Saint Miché; Breton: Menez Mikael ar Mor; English: Saint Michael's Mount) is a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy, France.

The island lies approximately one kilometre (0.6 miles) off the country's north-western coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches and is 7 hectares (17 acres) in area. The mainland part of the commune is 393 hectares (971 acres) in area so that the total surface of the commune is 400 hectares (988 acres). As of 2019, the island had a population of 29.

The commune's position—on an island just a few hundred metres from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgri...Read more

Mont-Saint-Michel (French pronunciation: ​[lə mɔ̃ sɛ̃ miʃɛl]; Norman: Mont Saint Miché; Breton: Menez Mikael ar Mor; English: Saint Michael's Mount) is a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy, France.

The island lies approximately one kilometre (0.6 miles) off the country's north-western coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches and is 7 hectares (17 acres) in area. The mainland part of the commune is 393 hectares (971 acres) in area so that the total surface of the commune is 400 hectares (988 acres). As of 2019, the island had a population of 29.

The commune's position—on an island just a few hundred metres from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433. Louis XI recognised the reverse benefits of its natural defence and turned it into a prison. The abbey was used regularly as a prison during the Ancien Régime.

Mont-Saint-Michel and its surrounding bay were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 for its unique aesthetic and importance as a medieval Christian site. It is visited by more than 3 million people each year. Over 60 buildings within the commune are protected in France as monuments historiques.

History

Mont-Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Gallo-Roman 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 460.[citation needed] From roughly the fifth to the eighth century, Mont Saint-Michel belonged to the territory of Neustria and, in the early ninth century, was an important place in the marches of Neustria.[citation needed]

 
Inside the walls of Mont Saint-Michel

Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe (Latin: tumba). According to a legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.[1]

Unable to defend his kingdom against the assaults of the Vikings, the king of the Franks agreed to grant the Cotentin peninsula and the Avranchin, including Mont Saint-Michel traditionally linked to the city of Avranches, to the Bretons in the Treaty of Compiègne (867). This marked the beginning of a brief period of Breton possession of the Mont. In fact, these lands and Mont Saint-Michel were never really included in the duchy of Brittany and remained independent bishoprics from the newly created Breton archbishopric of Dol. When Rollo confirmed Franco as archbishop of Rouen, these traditional dependences of the Rouen archbishopric were retained in it.[citation needed]

The mount gained strategic significance again in 933 when William I Longsword annexed the Cotentin Peninsula from the weakened Duchy of Brittany. This made the mount definitively part of Normandy, and is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England. Harold Godwinson is pictured on the tapestry rescuing two Norman knights from the quicksand in the tidal flats during a battle with Conan II, Duke of Brittany. Norman ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.[citation needed]

 
Bayeux Tapestry scenes 16 and 17: William and Harold at Mont Saint-Michel (at top centre); Harold rescuing knights from quicksand

In 1067 the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance.[citation needed]

 
Cannons abandoned by Thomas de Scales, 7th Baron Scales at Mont Saint-Michel on 17 June 1434

During the Hundred Years' War, the Kingdom of England made repeated assaults on the island but was unable to seize it due to the abbey's improved fortifications. The English initially besieged the Mont in 1423–24, and then again in 1433–34 with English forces under the command of Thomas de Scales, 7th Baron Scales. Two wrought-iron bombards that Scales abandoned when he gave up his siege are still on site. They are known as les Michelettes.[2] Mont Saint-Michel's resolute resistance inspired the French, especially Joan of Arc.

When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469, he intended that the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel become the chapel for the Order, but because of its great distance from Paris, his intention could never be realized.[citation needed]

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 regime. 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.

In 1872, the highly decorated French architect of historic monuments, Édouard Corroyer, was responsible for assessing the condition of the Mont. It took him about two years to convince his minister to classify Mont Saint-Michel a historic monument, and it was officially declared as such in 1874. From then on, this highly qualified and educated architect and member of the Academy of Fine Arts devoted himself entirely to the restoration of "la Merveille". Under his direction, gigantic works were undertaken, starting with the most urgent and devoted fifteen years of his life to this work. He wrote four works on the building and his name remains forever attached to the "resurrection" of Mont Saint-Michel.[citation needed]

During the occupation of France in WWII, German soldiers occupied Mont Saint-Michel, where they used St. Auburn church as a lookout post. The island was a major attraction for German tourists and soldiers with around 325,000 German tourists from July 18, 1940, to the end of the occupation of France. After the initial D-Day invasion by the allies, many exhausted German soldiers retreated to strongholds like Mont Saint-Michel. On August 1, 1944, Allied troops entered the Mont Saint-Michel. They were accompanied by two British reporters, Gault MacGowan of the New York Sun and Paul Holt with the London Daily Express, and crowds of jubilant French locals.[3]

Mont Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, and it was listed with criteria such as cultural, historical, and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.[4]

Abbey design
 
Plan of the mount by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc

In the 11th century, William of Volpiano, the Italian architect who had built Fécamp Abbey in Normandy, was chosen by Richard II, Duke of Normandy, to be the building contractor. 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 building of Romanesque architecture.

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, Guy of Thouars, regent for the Duchess of Brittany, as vassal of the King of France, undertook a 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 Jordan a grant for the reconstruction of the abbey in the new Gothic architectural style.[5]

Charles VI is credited with adding major fortifications to the abbey-mount, building towers, successive courtyards, and strengthening the ramparts.

Development
10th century 

10th century

11th to 12th century 

11th to 12th century

17th to 18th century 

17th to 18th century

19th to 21st century 

19th to 21st century

^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Mont-St-Michel". Newadvent.org. 1 October 1911. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013. ^ James, David (6 October 2017). "10 Fascinating Facts About Mont Saint-Michel — the Medieval City on a Rock". 5-Minute History. Retrieved 24 January 2022. ^ Hymel, Kevin. "Freeing Mont Saint Michel". Warfare History Network.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link) ^ Cite error: The named reference UNESCO was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Adams, Henry (1913). Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres: A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 37–38.
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