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

The island lies approximately one kilometre (one-half nautical mile) off France'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 (990 acres). As of 2019, the island had a population of 29.

The commune's position—on an island just a few hundred metres (yards) from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, and defensible as the incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The island remained unconquered during ...Read more

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

The island lies approximately one kilometre (one-half nautical mile) off France'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 (990 acres). As of 2019, the island had a population of 29.

The commune's position—on an island just a few hundred metres (yards) from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, and defensible as the 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 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 Catholic site. It is visited by more than three million people each year. Over 60 buildings within the commune are protected in France as historical monuments.

In 2023, President Macron marked 1,000 years of the abbey, and the success of the hydraulic dam project and the elevated pedestrian bridge in restoring water flow in the bay, making the mount an island again.

From the 8th century onward

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. 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. Around 989–990 these traditional bishoprics, dependent of the archbishopric of Rouen and that had been left vacant during the time of the Viking raids, regained their bishops.[2]

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 Norman Conquest. Harold Godwinson is pictured on the tapestry rescuing two Norman knights from the quicksand in the tidal flats during the Breton–Norman war. 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 English throne. 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 Mont-Saint-Michel and became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance.[citation needed]

 Two bombards abandoned by English forces and currently on display.

During the Hundred Years' War, English forces unsuccessfully besieged Mont-Saint-Michel (which was under French control) twice. The first siege started in 1423, and was lifted the next year. In 1433, an English force equipped with wrought-iron bombards and under the command of Thomas Scales, 7th Baron Scales again besieged the island. It was likewise lifted the next year. Scales's men abandoned two bombards they had used during the siege on 17 June 1434; they were recovered by the French and are currently on display.[3]

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. 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. By 1836, influential figures—including Victor Hugo—had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was closed in 1863.

In 1872, the French architect of historic monuments, Édouard Corroyer, was responsible for assessing the condition of Mont-Saint-Michel. It took him about two years to convince his minister to classify it as a historic monument, and it was officially declared as such in 1874. From then on Corroyer, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, devoted fifteen years of his life to the restoration of "la Merveille". Under his direction, gigantic works were undertaken, starting with the most urgent. 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 World War II, German soldiers occupied Mont-Saint-Michel, where they used St. Aubert 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 Allies' initial D-Day invasion of Normandy that began on June 6, 1944, many exhausted German soldiers retreated to strongholds like Mont-Saint-Michel. On August 1, 1944, a single American soldier – Private Freeman Brougher of Pennsylvania and the 72nd Publicity Service Battalion – reached and liberated Mont-Saint-Michel accompanied by two British reporters, Gault MacGowan of the New York Sun and Paul Holt with the London Daily Express. Jubilant crowds of locals greeted Brougher, Holt and MacGowan, and Brougher signed the Golden Book, the island's record of visiting nobility, at the mayor's invitation. The abbey was also used as a prison for the first time since the French Revolution when male collaborators with the Germans were jailed there.[4][5]

Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, listed with criteria such as cultural, historical, and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.[6]

 Mont Saint Michel in 2023

In June 2023, President Emanuel Macron visited Mont-Saint-Michel to mark the 1,000-year anniversary of the abbey. He stated that the changes since the hydraulic dam and the new bridge opened have lessened the silting, making it an island again.[7]

Abbey design  A 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 Brittany, 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 setting fire to the village and massacring the population, he beat a retreat under the powerful walls of the abbey. The fire which he lit extended to the buildings, and the roofs fell prey to the flames. Horrified by the cruelty of his Breton ally, Philip Augustus offered Abbot Jordan a grant for the reconstruction of the abbey in the new Gothic architectural style.[8]

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". New Advent. 1 October 1911. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013. ^ Allen, Richard, The Norman Episcopate, 989-1110, University of Glasgow, 2009, fig. 3, p. 14 ^ 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 (January 2021). "Freeing Mont Saint Michel". Warfare History Network. ^ "The Liberation of Mont-Saint-Michel". Beaches of Normandy Tours. Retrieved 8 August 2023. ^ Cite error: The named reference UNESCO was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Olive, Noemie (5 June 2023). "New dam saved France's Mont-Saint-Michel island status, Macron says". Reuters. Retrieved 8 August 2023. Macron said a new hydraulic dam project started in 1995 and completed in 2015 was now proving it is able to gradually flush sand out of the bay. "In just a few years, the silting up of the bay has been stopped and we have restored the possibility of an island," Macron said. ^ Adams, Henry (1913). Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres: A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 37–38.
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