Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Mont Saint-Michel.

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

as viewed along the Couesnon River in
Normandy, France.
Photo: 5 July 2011.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
Attribution: Photo by DAVID ILIFF.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Français: Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel, Manche, Normandie, France. Le cloître.
English: Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, Manche, Normandie, France. The Cloister.
Photo: 9 September 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Tango7174.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Mont Saint-Michel (English: Saint Michael's Mount) is an island commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometre (0.6 miles) off the country's North-Western coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River, near Avranches. 100 hectares (247 acres) in size, the island has a population of forty-four (2009).

The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and, since the 8th-Century, has been the Seat of the Monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: On top; God, the Abbey and Monastery; Below this; the Great halls, then stores and housing; and, at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen and farmers' housing.

Its unique position, of being an island only 600 metres from land, made it readily accessible on low tide to the many pilgrims to its Abbey. Equally, this position made it readily defensible, as an incoming tide stranded, or drowned, would-be assailants. By capitalising on this natural defence, the Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War, with a small garrison successfully defending it against a full attack by the English in 1433. The reverse benefits of its natural defence was not lost on Louis XI, who turned The Mont into a State Prison and, thereafter, the Abbey started to be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancien Régime from the 16th-Century.

The Guests' Hall,
Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel.
Photo: 4 August 2012.
Source: Own work.
Author: Parsifall.
(Wikimedia Commons)

One of France's most recognisable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay are part of the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites and more than three million people visit it each year.

Mont Saint-Michel was used in the 6th- and 7th-Centuries, as an Armorican stronghold of Gallo-Roman culture and power, until it was ransacked by the Franks, thus ending the Trans-Channel culture that had stood since the departure of the Romans in 460 A.D. From the 5th- to the 8th-Century, Mont Saint-Michel belonged to the territory of Neustria, and in the Early-9th-Century was an important place in the Marches of Neustria.

Photochrom print by Photoglob Zürich, between 1890 and 1900.
This picture is in the public domain.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Before the construction of the first Monastic establishment, in the 8th-Century, the island was called Mont Tombe (Latin: tumba). According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 A.D., to Saint Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a Church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the Angel's instruction until Saint Michael burned a hole in the Bishop's skull with his finger.

Unable to defend his kingdom against the assaults of the Vikings, the King of the Franks agreed to grant the Cotentin Peninsula and the Avranchin, including Mont-Saint-Michel, to the Bretons in the 867 A.D., Treaty of Compiègne. This marked the beginning of the brief period of Breton possession of the Mont. In fact, these lands and Mont Saint-Michel were never really included in the Duchy of Brittany and remained independent Bishoprics from the newly-created Breton Archbishopric of Dol. When Rollo confirmed Franco as Archbishop of Rouen, these traditional Dependencies of the Rouen Archbishopric were retained in it.

Mont Saint-Michel.
Photo: 10 May 2009.
Source: Own work.
Author: Nono vlf.
(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

The wealth and influence of the Abbey extended to many Daughter Foundations, including Saint Michael's Mount, in Cornwall. However, its popularity and prestige, as a centre of pilgrimage, waned with the Reformation, and, by the time of the French Revolution, there were scarcely any Monks in residence. The Abbey was closed and converted into a prison, initially to hold Clerical opponents of the Republican Regime.

High-profile political prisoners followed, but, by 1836, influential figures — including Victor Hugo — had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the Mont was declared an historic monument in 1874. Mont Saint-Michel, and its Bay, were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

File:Cannons abandonded by Thomas Scalles at Mont Saint-Michel.jpg

The Cannons, abandoned by Thomas Scalles, at Mont Saint-Michel, on 17 June 1434.
Marked by an explanatory plaque with the words: "BOMBARDES ANGLAISES ABANDONNEES PAR L'ARMEE DE THOMAS SCALLES LE 17 JUIN 1434". CALIBRE 380 - 420".
Photo: 14 May 2009.
Source: Own work.
Author: Greenshed.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In the 11th-Century, William de Volpiano, the Italian architect who had built the Abbey of Fécamp, in Normandy, was chosen by Richard II of Normandy, to be the building contractor. He designed the Romanesque Church of the Abbey, daringly placing the Transept Crossing at the top of the Mont. Many underground Crypts and Chapels had to be built, to compensate for this weight; these formed the basis for the supportive upward structure that can be seen today. Today, Mont Saint-Michel is seen as a Romanesque-Style Church.

Robert de Thorigny, a great supporter of Henry II of England, (who was also Duke of Normandy), reinforced the structure of the buildings and built the main façade of the Church in the 12th-Century. In 1204, the Breton, Guy de Thouars, allied to the King of France, undertook the siege of the Mont. After having set fire to the village, and having massacred the population, he was obliged to beat a retreat under the powerful walls of the Abbey. Unfortunately, the fire, which he himself lit, extended to the buildings, and the roofs fell prey to the flames. Horrified by the cruelty and the exactions of his Breton ally, Philip Augustus offered Abbot Jourdain a Grant for the construction of a new Gothic-Style building, which included the addition of the Refectory and Cloister.

File:200506 - Mont Saint-Michel 02.JPG

Mont Saint-Michel.
Photo: 17 June 2005.
Source: Own work.
Author: Semnoz.
{{GFDL}} Copyright Wife of Semnoz,
June 2006.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Charles VI is credited with adding major fortifications to the Abbey-Mont, building Towers, successive Courtyards, and strengthening the Ramparts.

The islet belongs to the French Commune of Mont-Saint-Michel, in the Département of Manche, in Basse-Normandie. Population (1999): Fifty. The nearest major town, with an SNCF Train Station, is Pontorson. Mont Saint-Michel belongs to the Organisation of World Heritage Cities.

Mont Saint-Michel has also been the subject of traditional, but nowadays good-humoured, rivalry between Normans and Bretons. Bretons claim that, since the Couesnon River marks the traditional boundary between Normandy and Brittany, it is only because the river has altered its course over the centuries that the Mont is on the Norman side of the border.

Historically, Mont Saint-Michel was the Norman counterpart of Saint Michael's Mount, Cornwall, England, which was given to the Benedictine Religious Order of Mont Saint-Michel, by King Edward the Confessor in the 11th-Century.

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