Everything to know about Mont Saint-Michel Abbey
Slender spires and medieval walls and towers rise above the rocky islet of Mont Saint-Michel. Droves of tourists come each year to see the stunning ensemble that crowns the mount. This magnificent beauty is Mont Saint-Michel Abbey in the Normandy region of France. Often called 'The Wonder of the Western World', the abbey is a World Heritage Site. The Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, an exemplary Romanesque and Gothic style architecture, is a prominent site of medieval Christian civilization.
History of Mont Saint Michel Abbey
In the 8th century, Aubert, Bishop of Avranches (a nearby hilltop town), had a vision of the Archangel Michael. To honour the archangel, he erected a small chapel at Mont Saint Michel island. By 966, Benedictine monks settled there. The Benedictine Mont Saint Michel Abbey flourished, becoming a centre of religious and cultural activity. A large number of pilgrims- including Kings of France and England, visited it over centuries. As a hub of medieval culture, Saint Mont Michel produced and stored manuscripts. It flourished to become an important pilgrimage site for Christians, from the 8th to the 18th century.Plan Your Visit
Thick walls and defensive towers flanked the mount towards the 14th century. This fortification defended Mont Saint-Michel Abbey from sieges by the British army for 30 years. But by the 18th century, the administrator abbot deserted the monastery. The abbey lost its religious and military significance. The Church became a property of the state after the French Revolution in the 18th century. During its years as a prison, the monument was severely dilapidated. In 1874, the abbey was classified as a historical monument and restored to its former glory after a long restoration process!Mont Saint Michel Facts
The Architecture of Mont Saint Michel Abbey
Built over 1,300 years, Saint Mont Michel Abbey stands on a granite inlet surrounded by quicksand. The monument is not only a remarkable example of medieval architecture but represents a technical feat.
La Merveille or the Marvel, the 13th-century cloister, is the architectural jewel of the abbey. It is a three-tiered structure, reaching a height of 35m, supported by sixteen buttresses. When first constructed, the Benedictine abbey reflected Romanesque architecture. The abbey suffered damages over time, resulting in reconstructions. The Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel was rebuilt later in a flamboyant Gothic style, with high and slender carved arches. Tall bays of stained glass windows illuminated it. But the abbey's nave still reflects Romanesque architecture.
The abbey continues to inspire many, including Hollywood! If you've seen the Lord of the Rings or Pixar’s animated movie Tangled, you know the creators were inspired by Mont Saint Michel!
Inside Mont St. Michel
From exploring the medieval village to walking along the ramparts, there is a lot to do and see inside Saint Mont Michel. Grab a meal or some light snacks at one of the restaurants overlooking the bay, pick a souvenir or visit one of the four museums in the village to learn a detailed account of the 1,300 years of the island. Here are the top highlights that you should not miss.
The Merveille is the Gothic part of the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey. The monks lived here. The three-layered levels that tower to 35 meters consist of the cellar on the ground floor, the knight's room and the Hosts' room on the intermediate level and the cloister and the refectory on the top level. Each floor was used either for public or monastic functions.
The top of the mount has the Abbey Church, a blend of different periods and styles. The altar and the surrounding aisle showcase Gothic style even though the church originally exhibited Romanesque style. You can see this in the nave and the rounded arches of the abbey.
On the walkway to Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel, there is a small 15th-century church. It serves the residents. While it can be easily missed, keep an eye for it. The sculpture of Michel and the stained glasses are one of the most impressive features of this quaint church.
The third level of the Merveille building contains a cloister- an open space suspended between the sky and the sea. The Cloister has a beautiful garden surrounded by double rows of columns and delicately carved spandrels, made using granite, stone and marble.
On the intermediate level of the Merville is the Knight’s room (La salle des Chevaliers). The room was also called the scriptorium. It was thought the room was used to produce manuscripts. But it was another place where monks read, studied and meditated.
Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey: FAQs
Mont Saint Michel is a tidal island in Normandy. In medieval times, a village developed beneath a Benedictine abbey. The settlement there came to be known as Mont Saint Michel.
Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is a famous French monument in Normandy that served as a pilgrimage site and a prison during medieval times.
Two bodies of monks and nuns from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem live in Mont Saint-Michel Abbey.
According to legend, Aubert, a Bishop from the nearby town of Avranches, had a vision from the Archangel Michael to build a chapel on Saint Mont Michel.
Mont Saint Michel is 360 kilometers from Paris.
A guided tour is the best way to experience Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel to get a detailed account of the island’s history.
Yes, the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is now open to visitors.