Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mont-St-Michel Abbey, France

In AD 708, Bishop Aubert of Avranches built a sanctuary on Mont Tombe after three visions of St. Michael the Archangel told him to build it. Aubert ignored the first two visions as mere dreams, but in the third dream Michael touched his forehead. When the bishop awoke, he had an injury on his skull. He then began the work that would grow into first a pilgrim site then a monastery that became known at Mont-St-Michel.

Visiting the abbey requires a good hike up the mount but is definitely worth the effort. The first room has models showing the various stages of construction on the mount.

Tenth century abbey

11th century abbey

17th century abbey, fort and village below

20th century abbey, town below

Visitors proceed to the west terrace, which has amazing views of the countryside as well as a good external view of the 10th century church that still stands on top of the mount.

View back to mainland France

The church

The spire is new (added in 1897) and is topped with a statue of St. Michael holding a sword and scales. Medieval legend has it that St. Michael will take the dead souls and weigh them in the balance on Judgement Day.

Inside the church the main altar is rather plain but functional (and still in use daily).

Main altar

 Ceiling over the altar

The walls are lined with many fine decorations, mostly bas relief from different centuries.

A French coat-of-arms?

Altar to Bishop Aubert, founder of the monastery

Madonna and Child circa 1100s

Adam and Eve Cast out of Paradise circa 1500s

Crucifixion of Jesus circa 1400s

Just outside the church is the cloister, an open area that connects different parts of the abbey and provides a walking area for the monks, even in the rain.


Covered walkway

One building adjoining the cloister is the refectory, where the monks would eat in silence as one of them read from the pulpit in the south wall.


Down a staircase is the Guests' Hall, where visitors would be entertained by the monks. The stairway down has a nice relief showing St. Michael visiting Bishop Aubert for the last time.

Touched by an angel, 8th century style

Guests' Hall

Beyond the Hall is the great pillared crypt which holds up the main part of the church above. L found this area spooky so we had to move on quickly.

Great pillared crypt

The next room had a much creepier history, though it has been transformed. The monks' ossuary or charnel house is where the human bones of those buried in the church yard were moved when new people were buried in the yard. During the French Revolution, the abbey was turned into a prison and in 1820, the room became home to a giant wheel and pulley system that pulled supplies up the side of the mount. Prisoners would walk around inside the wheel to draw up sledges full of supplies.


The rope that goes out the window

Sledge for holding the supplies

Another set of stairs leads to the Knights' Hall, which served as the work and study room for the monks. They would copy manuscripts and probably kept their library here.

North-south stairs

Knights' Hall

More of the hall

A bit of the mount peeking through

The final room is the almonry, where the monks took in the poor and the pilgrims (sometimes the same people), giving them food and shelter. Such was part of their charitable duties, hence the "alms" in the "almonry." Now it has precisely the opposite purpose--it's the gift shop for taking money from visitors and the exit by which they leave!


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