Once again this magical place call it self an island again, the holy mount that has been one of Europe’s major pilgrim destinations, one of France’s most recognizable landmarks and one of UNESCOs world heritage site has had undergone a facelift. A major campaign has ensured that the Mont-Saint-Michel preserves its maritime character and remain an island.
It was a dream come true when I visited this island, this was a place I have only previously seen in movies, on tv or seen and read about in books. I have been fascinated about its location, its history and architecture and now I finally got to see it.
Since ancient times this place has held a strategic fortification and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name.
Steep and narrow streets, buildings clinging to the rocks surface describes this place, the architectural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers. The buildings that went up along the steep village street, is now converted into museums, hotels, restaurants and boutiques for today’s tourists.
Situated only 600 meters from the mainland, made this place accessible tho the countless of pilgrims that has visited this islands abbey throughout history, at the same time this place was defensible as incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned, would-be assailants.
The Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel is subject to the largest tidal range in Europe during spring tides. The waters can withdraw as far as 25km from the shore. After low tide, the local saying goes that the seawater rush back in to the bay ‘at the pace of a galloping horse’. The waters come in fast, so if you do not have local knowledge of the area and the tide, do not venture out on the sand.
- The rising tide might get you.
2. Quicksand surrounding the mount might get you.
For centuries this island was a place of God and learning. The Mont even remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War, when a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433. Unfortunately the benefits of its natural defence were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. After that the abbey was used as a jail during the Ancien Régime.
From a great distance the island silhouette draws your eyes towards it and as you get closer it looms in the distance. I can imagine the excitement of the pilgrims as they got closer, closer to their God and absolution. I can also imagine the prisoners that saw their future home in a distance, dark, barren and gloomy.
The staggering location has long inspired awe and the imagination. The story of how the mount turned into a great place of Christian pilgrimage is colourful. Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches early in the 8th century, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea.
The Bay that Mont Saint-Michel is situated has been prone to silting up in the last couple of centuries. Farming and the building of a causeway to the island did not help the problem. A major campaign and massive work has ensured that the Mont-Saint-Michel preserves its maritime character and remains an island. The Couesnon river that flows into the bay, is ow being left to flow freely so that sediments are washed out to sea.
For more information on this project, please click here
To lighten the load of the sediment build up a new causeway has been built, the car park relocated from the shoreline. The new car parks is about 1,5 miles away from the island. In order to get to the island you have to take a shuttle bus that take you from the mainland to the mount. These busses operate daily, at very regular intervals, from 7.30am to midnight. Other alternatives is to take a stroll or you can book a special horse-drawn carriage.