Mont St. Michelle

As we left the coast line of Normandy we were all excited about seeing Mont Saint Michel. We kept looking out the windows of the bus and as we approached the very flat coast line we saw in the distance a vision of a pyramidal rock with a church on the upper most region.

It is a wonder ! An architectural feat, a place of pilgrimage, an exceptional site, among the most often visited in France. 22 km away southwest of Avranches, at the far end of the bay stretching from Cancale to Granville, this town/fortress was built on a rocky outcrop with a 1 km circumference and attached to the continent by a dyke. Surrounded by enormous strands of gray silt, "la tangue", the Mont is also the ideal observation point for one of the world's most unique phenomena, the extremely rapid rise of the tides which gradually encircle the island two times a day : an unforgettable show, but dangerous for careless strollers

The bay of Mont-Saint-Michel and the Mont itself are registered on UNESCO's worldwide patrimony list as a natural and cultural heritage. The bay brings together a large diversity of natural environments that constitute the vastest stretch of salt meadow and polders in France : some seven thousand sheep graze there. Three rivers flow into the bay : the Sée, the Sélune, and the Couesnon, the natural boundary between Brittany and Normandy.

At its origins, the Mont Tombe was a rock that towered above the forest of Scissy. In 709, a tidal wave engulfed the forest, isolating the Mont. That year, legend has it that the archangel Michel appeared three times before the bishop of Avranches, Aubert, to request the construction of an oratory of him. The bishop had a shrine built, and monks moved in soon thereafter...but the present-day abbey was only built in the year 1000. In the XIIth century, the abbey shined forth throughout all of Europe. In 1204, the Marvel's construction got under way, a masterpiece of gothic architecture regarded as the most remarkable part of the Mont. The three levels of the Marvel The Marvel rises in three terraced levels and comprises : The cloister built by Raoul de Villedieu, which enabled monks to meditate facing an immense landscape. The immense refectory, its narrow slit windows and thick walls which support wooden barrel vaults. the Knights room, "chauffoir" and the monks' manuscript room. Outside, Claudine tower is the point of departure for a walking tour of the ramparts, that were built in the XIIIth and the XVth century, and which made Mont Saint-Michel invincible. The abbey was laid siege to during the Religious wars of the XVIth century. During the French Revolution, it even became a prison for common law criminals and certain political prisoners. Many key figures, including Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, Viollet-le-Duc, etc. denounced this practice which was abolished in 1863 by Napoléon III. The abbey-church steeple, struck and destroyed by lightning, was replaced by a finely worked spire topped by a gold leaf statue of Saint Michel. After so many centuries, the abbey, a sublime catalogue of all architectural styles, is once again home to a few monks. Stairways and a spiral path go round the mount and enable tourists to go down the only street of this small city of 105 inhabitants, replete with half-timbered houses, boutiques, museums, and restaurants.

Of Interest! As we were touring the buildings we were taken into one room where there was a huge wooden wheel about twenty feet high. The guide said that for a long time people wondered how they managed to get the supplies and tools up to such a great height. They found this room with the remnants of where the wheel's axle was embedded into the walls and then figured out how the wheel worked. A rope was attached to the axle and went down a smooth slope to the ground. Supplies were put into a box and two men would stand in the wheel and start walking. The torque was strong enough because of the size of the wheel to pull very heavy loads up to the abbey. Another ingenious way to move materials. They think wheels like this may have been used in building cathedrals and other large buildings, saving a great deal of labor and time!


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