ROCKY WONDER OF THE OCCIDENT
It was during a visit of Paris that I booked a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel. This tour includes return transportation from the center of Paris in a comfortable air-conditioned bus, entrance fees, visiting of the abbey and the village. We leave Paris early morning to arrive on the spot in the late morning. There are of course several ways to get to Mont Saint-Michel, and the official tourism website can provide you all the necessary information in order to get there easily. During the journey, I have the opportunity to learn a little more about the history of the place.
It was at the request of the Archangel Michael, “chief of the celestial militia» that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a church on October 16, 709. In 966, at the request of the Duke of Normandy, a community of Benedictines settled on the rock. The Romanesque church was then built before the year one thousand.
In the 11th century, the Romanesque abbey church was founded above a set of crypts at the tip of the rock and the first monastery buildings were built up against its north wall. In the 12th century, Romanesque monastery buildings were extended to the west and south. In the 13th century, a gift of King Philip Augustus of France made possible the construction of the Gothic style buildings of the Wonder: two three-story buildings crowned by a cloister and a refectory. In the 14th and 15th century, the Hundred Years War made it necessary to protect the abbey by a set of fortifications which allowed it to withstand a siege of more than thirty years. The Romanesque choir of the abbey church collapsed in 1421, and was replaced by the flamboyant Gothic choir during the late Middle Ages. This great spiritual and intellectual place was with Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostela, one of the largest pilgrimage of the medieval period.
For nearly a thousand years, men, women and children came by roads called “paths to paradise,” looking for the Archangel of judgment and the assurance of eternity. Turned into a prison during the Revolution and the Empire, the Abbey has required major restoration work from the late 19th century. It is entrusted since 1874 to serve as an historical monument. The celebration of the monastic millennium in 1966 preceded the establishment of a religious community in the former abbey house, still perpetuating the primary purpose of this place; Prayer and Home.
The Brothers and Sisters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem provide this spiritual presence since 2001. Parallel to the development of the abbey, a village grew from the Middle Ages. It thrives on the southeast flank of the rock, protected by walls dating back mostly to the Hundred Years War. This village has always been a commercial area. Classified as “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO in 1979, this “tourist mecca” now receives more than three million visitors a year.
Since 2014, a brand new pier provides easy access to Mont-Saint-Michel, whatever the state of the tide may be. We approach the immense stone gate, only possible access to the site.
At the entrance of this medieval city, the former Corps de Garde des Bourgeois, facing the guns, is home to the tourist office. Passing the Boulevard gate, then the King gate (equipped with a drawbridge), we can see the Grande Rue, with its museums, shops and houses of the 15th and 16th centuries (the passage of the drawbridge also led on the right to the ramparts path). The parish church, a small building of the 15th and 16th centuries is dedicated to St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen. Finally, we take the Grand Stairway which is a prelude to the Wonder and the visit of the Abbey. From the last, we can admire unique views of the bay and visit almost twenty rooms built around the rock and dating from the 10th to the 14th century. You are able to visit the place freely or choose to follow a guide or a speaker from the National Monument Center. The Monastic brotherhood ensure permanence of prayer in the abbey since 2001. Our tour lasts about 2 hours and our guide tells us about the history of the place and about many elements shown in the various rooms of the abbey.
After visiting the Abbey, we can contemplate again the beauty of the Bay down the path along the wall, or by choosing another path to the left (my preference), dotted with small gardens, which you can also access through the porch of Fanils. Just enough time to stroll through the shopping streets and we leave the place at around 5 p.m. to go back to the capital city.