Mont Saint-Michel

No trip to northern France would be complete without a visit to Mont Saint-Michel, a 250 acre tidal island located just a half mile off the Normandy coast. Topped by the abbey and monastery that lend their name, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is visited by more than three million travelers each year.

I believe a good portion of those tourists were present on the day of our group visit. Though we could see the rocky island as we approached, the small country road we traveled gave no clue to the hundreds of buses and cars we would join in the immense parking lot of the tourist office.

Seen from a distance, Mont Saint-Michel towers above fields of crops and cattle.

Seen from a distance, Mont Saint-Michel towers above fields of crops and cattle.

The colorful flag of Normandy.

The colorful flag of Normandy.

The massive gate.

The massive gate.

The public transportation to the island was swift, however, and everyone was in a happy frame of mind, so no worries. After a few minutes wait for our guide, we crossed the threshold of the ancient gate and began the climb that would take us to the abbey, but not inside, as a museum worker’s strike prevented our entry. (We were in France, after all, where strikes are a proud tradition as well as the best tool for the working class to preserve the power they have historically enjoyed.)

Though disappointed not to see the abbey, there was plenty to engage our attention.

The island itself exemplifies feudal society, with the humble homes of fishermen and other laborers at the base of the rocky island. The stores of tradesmen are located just inside the walls, with the great halls above the commercial area, and finally the monastery and abbey at the summit.

Stores and cafes within the gate.

Stores and cafes within the gate.

Inside the drawbridge, you enter the Grand Rue, the main road to the abbey. Along the way is the parish church, Eglise Sainte-Pierre, a small 15th century building dedicated to the patron of fishermen, St. Peter. A 19th century refurbishment, however, placed the emphasis on St. Michael. Both the chapel and the abbey feature depictions of St. Michael as the dragon slayer, as noted in the book of Revelation.

The Chapel of St. Peter on Mont Saint-Michel.

The Chapel of St. Peter on Mont Saint-Michel.

Revelation 12:7-9, New International Version:
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

The dragon slayer in the chapel, thanks to a 19th century refurbishment.

The dragon slayer in the chapel, thanks to a 19th century refurbishment.

Leaving the chapel, we enjoyed our first dramatic views of the marsh and mainland. The immense tidal bay that surrounds Mont Saint-Michel is one of the strongest in Europe, with 46-foot tides that rise and recede suddenly. It is dangerous to venture alone into the bay, but guided excursions are available and we saw many of these, mostly of school-age children, as we climbed above the fortress walls.

Above the chapel looking towards the mainland.

Above the chapel looking towards the mainland.

School groups exploring the tidal basin.

School groups exploring the tidal basin.

Picnic at the base of the abbey walls.

Picnic at the base of the abbey walls.

The pre Romanesque abbey at the summit was consecrated in 708. A community of Benedictine monks guarded it until the French Revolution. During the Hundred Years War it was the only part of northern France not to fall into enemy hands, though it was under siege many times. The abbey was symbolically returned to the order of the Benedictines in 1966, during the founding anniversary of Mont Saint-Michel.

Abbey of  Mont Saint-Michel above the rooftops (note the protest banner).

Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel above the rooftops (note the protest banner).

Among other claims to fame, it is said the omelet was invented on Mont Saint-Michel by Annette Poulard in the early 20th century. Interred at the chapel cemetery with her husband, Victor, the couple’s epitaph reads: Here rests Victor and Annette Poulard, good spouses, good hoteliers. Deign O Lord, to receive them as they received their guests.

Throughout our visit the weather improved and I was able to capture a spectacular image of the island on departure.

Mont Saint-Michel is the one of the most recognized symbols of France, second only to the Eiffel Tower.

Mont Saint-Michel is the one of the most recognized symbols of France, second only to the Eiffel Tower.

If you’re a cycling fan, the Tour de France is headed to the northern coast of France today. Tomorrow’s time trial (Stage 11) will culminate at Mont Saint-Michel.

15 thoughts on “Mont Saint-Michel

  1. claudette pfeifer

    We were there in 1991 and loved every minute of our visit. Our Hotel was at the base of Mont Saint. Michel. The view from our bedroom window was fabulous! Claudette Pfeifer

    Reply
  2. Sharon Lanier

    Awesome! I am so loving your articles & photos from our trip. Still working on my photos. Saw Eugenia today as she was here for medical appointment. Enjoy your summer! Sharon Lanier

    Reply
  3. Linda Butcher

    Hi Marian,

    Loved these pics of Mont Saint-Michel…………….we were there several years ago, & have been watching “Le Tour” again this year, so are seeing some of the places we visited as the bikers ride by.

    Mont Saint-Michel was my favorite place, & I entered a photo similar to the last one you posted here, but it was a bit farther away, as I wanted the grazing sheep in the foreground. It took a bit of trespassing, but I got my photoJ

    Thanks for sharing all of your lovely memories with us,

    Love, Linda

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Linda–We’re having fun spotting the places we’ve been. Last night they mentioned Dinan, a smallish town in Brittany with a great number of medieval buildings…sounds like a good place to add to the list for next time.

      Reply
  4. Dee

    Marian, I loved this. It is my dream to visit Mount St. Michel one day. The images of Michael are wonderful. Thank you for a respite to a long day at work.

    Reply
  5. Pauline

    That looks a lovely place to visit and there are links to St. Michael’s Mount just off the Cornish coast, both owned by the same order of monks at one time and both cut off at high tide.

    Reply
  6. Sandra Hamann

    One of my favorite places! We’ve had the good fortune to have been there twice….and of course 50% of the time there was a strike! A transportation strike I think it was, and about a half dozen tour busses were turned around. Fortunately we were driving, so just waited awhile and were able to drive right in! However, we have never, ever been there in the sunshine! What a fabulous photo with blue sky and fluffy clouds! A great image to have of a beautiful place. My memories are sunny but the photos are grey! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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