Mont Saint Michel Abbey

Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

The first written text about an abbey dates from the 9th century. When Christianity expanded to this area, around the 4th century, Mont Tombe, the original name of Mont Saint Michel, was part of diocèse d’Avranches. By the middle of the 6th century, christianism had a stronger presence in the bay. By this time, Mont Tombe was populated by religious devots, hermits (probably some Celtic monks) resupplied by the curé of Astériac, that took care of the site and led a contemplative life around some oratories.

In 710, Mont-Tombe is renamed Mont-Saint-Michel-au-péril-de-la-Mer (Mont Saint Michel at the peril of the sea) after erecting an oratory to Saint Michel by bishop Saint Aubert of Avranches in 708. According to the legend, Aubert received, during his sleep, three times the order from Saint-Michel to erect an oratory on the Mont-Tombe. The archangel left his finger mark on Aubert's skull. This skull is displayed at the Saint-Gervais d'Avranches basilica was such a scar on it.

This sanctuary should be, according to the archangel, a replica of the Gargano in Italy (from the 5th century). Aubert had a local religious artifact removed and instead a circular sanctuary built, made of dry stones. Around 708, On October 16 709, the bishop dedicated the church and put twelve chanoine there. The Mont-Saint-Michel was born. The remains of the oratory were found in the chapel Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre. This sanctuary contained the tomb of Aubert and most likely the artifacts brought from Gargano. The chapel Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre is today under the nave of the abbey-church.

The first buildings became too small and under the Western Roman Empire multiple buildings were added. In the 10th century the Benedictine monks settled in the abbey, constructing the Romanesque abbey church with its high vaulted ceilings and moulded arches, monastery and crypts at the apex of the rock.

Through successive centuries of the Middle Ages and with increasing numbers of monks and pilgrims both the abbey and village were extended until in the 13th century they stretched down to the foot of the rock.

By the 14th century and the Hundred Years war, the abbey had to be protected behind a massive set of military ramparts, enabling it to successfully hold out successfully through many English sieges lasting over 30 years and in doing so the Mount became a symbol of French national identity.

In 1421 the original Romanesque chancel (choir) of the abbey church collapsed and was replaced in the 15th century by a flamboyant Gothic structure, marking completion of the last major construction works at the mount. The abbey today is thus an exceptional example of the full range of medieval architecture.

Over the 16th and 17th centuries religious ideals waned and the number of monks dwindled until by 1790 the monastery was disbanded and the monks left the mount. This paved the way for the fortress to be turned into a prison in 1793, a situation which lasted through the days of the French Revolution and Empire until imperial decree in 1863 finally overturned the sacrilege.

In 1874 Mont Saint-Michel was designated as a French historical monument and major works have continued now for over a century to restore the mount to its former splendour, improving both the abbey interior and exterior. With the celebration of the monastery's 1000th anniversary in the year 1966, a religious community returned to the mount, perpetuating spiritual prayer and welcoming the mount's original vocation.

UNESCO recognised the unique character and historical importance of Mont Saint-Michel by classifying it as a world heritage site in 1979.

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