Mont St. Michel ~ A Look Back
- October 08, 2020
- The Glambassador
Ten years ago, The Gentleman and I took our very first trip to Europe. That year, 2010, had been an incredibly hard one for us. My Mom came to live with us the year before, to care for her after her ALS diagnosis. She passed away in March of 2010, and we then had to put our elderly dogs down, so we were desperately in need of some time away to heal and recharge. We easily decided that a trip to France for two weeks would be just the thing we needed. We decided to do a tour with Rick Steves, since it was our first time in Europe and we were avid viewers of his travel shows. We admire his travel style, appreciating the regular tourist destinations, and exploring the hidden gems and not so touristy areas.
One of our destinations on this fantastic tour was to Mont St. Michel in Normandy, France. At the time of booking the tour, we really didn’t know much about it. Still, after a bit of research on it, we were captivated by it. It became a highlight of our tour and a destination that seems to follow us throughout our travels.
Before 1879, the only way to reach the Mont was to wait for the tides to go out as there was a natural tidal causeway made from the bay’s silt, which made access easier. However, the tides were quick and unpredictable, and many people lost their lives (it’s know as “Mount Saint Michael at the peril of the sea”). Now there is a bridge that connects the mainland to the island that allows the water to flow freely underneath as well as the many visitors who flock there annually. However, the tides are still quite high, and once they come in, the water surrounds the Mont completely to create the tidal island. It really is a fantastic sight to watch the rushing tides in the evening.
We had the wonderful experience of staying the night on the Mont, and it was an experience that I will never forget. Our room was nestled in between the abbey and the village below. We had a beautiful view of the church graveyard and the bay.
Walking around the ramparts and the tiny medieval village makes you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. Although it’s mainly a religious site and tourist destination, there are still about 30 inhabitants who live within the village on the island.
Over the years, we’ve come across items that bring us back to this wonderful trip. I bought this book at an estate sale in Baltimore, published in 1957 with original text from 1905, and I’ve treasured it ever since.
A few years ago, while strolling the streets in the 14 arrondissement in Paris, we happened upon a small flea market. There we found this book of postcards from the 1930s, it’s entirely intact, and the Art Deco lettering on the front is really special.
During that first trip to France in 2010, we never thought that in five short years we would actually be living in Europe and be able to travel to more than a dozen countries.
A bit of history of Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel is an ancient tidal island at the mouth of the Couesnon River, with the Abbey of St. Michel sitting at the very top of the mount, gazing out over the luscious green lands of Normandy and Brittany. Before the monastic establishment was built, it was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, in 708, the archangel Michael appeared to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches, during his sleep. Three times this order from Saint Michael came to him to erect an oratory on the Mont Tombe. The archangel was reputed to have left his fingermark on Aubert’s skull. This skull is displayed at the Saint-Gervais d’Avranches basilica with such a scar on it.
In 710, Mont Tombe was renamed Mont Saint Michel au péril de la Mer (“Mount Saint Michael at the peril of the sea”)
Over the centuries, Mont St. Michel became a pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. Its popularity and prestige as a center of pilgrimage waned with the Reformation. By the time of the French Revolution, there were scarcely any monks in residence. The abbey was closed in 1791 and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican regime (up to 300 priests at one point). The abbey was then nicknamed “bastille des mers” (Bastille of the sea).
The prison was closed in 1863, and the abbey was declared a National Monument in 1874. During WWII, the abbey and the surrounding area came under German occupation and thankfully was kept intact and unharmed. Mont Saint Michel, including the bay, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.