We are now back in Montpellier—home—after our month-long travels in Brittany. And… it is hot. And humid, here in the south. Our attempts to escape the heat by heading north were mostly successful. We had some powerfully hot days in Vannes, early on, but that heat spell broke (the heat wave moved north to Britain, where it set record-breaking temperatures in England).
Since then it’s been quite pleasant… until now!
Ah… but this is to be a blog about our trip to Brittany, not another rant about the weather. Since we’ve just returned from Mont Saint-Michel, let’s start there!
|Even from miles away, the Mont is singularly impressive!|
Although we have been here before, there is something endlessly powerful about seeing that massive cathedral on its rock with its endless spire pointing heavenward, set well away from the land. We arrived a bit before low tide, the island surrounded by a vast vista of empty sand. Signs were posted indicating a guide was required to explore the empty sand around the island, and indeed, there were a number of groups on the extensive plane, some in the far distance. (this idea of wandering on the sea bottom is very intriguing; if we’re ever back there I may take one of those tours, although there are so many other places to go…)
|Paula (and Kate is in there, too!) marvel at the masterpiece.|
We finally turned our attention to the city itself, and entered the ancient stone gate.
“Don’t go to Mont Saint-Michel in August!” we were warned. Yeah, well, best not to go anywhere in France in August, the traditional vacation month. It was crowded. It was very crowded, and there is only one street that winds up the hill that is Mont Saint-Michel.
|Yes, it WAS crowded!|
We slowly made our way up to the entrance to the cathedral, the big (only?) attraction on the island. We paid 11€ (pretty much $11USD, these days) each to get in. Well worth it, I think! The entry allowed us to continue up through the church’s buildings, providing magnificent views over the (empty) bay, and incredible interior views of the "Merveille" (the Wonder), 13th century buildings that medieval builders managed to fit onto what was then nothing more than a pyramidal rock.
|Archangel Michael, to whom the Mont is dedicated.|
On the way up (and up, and up, and up) Paula checked on the history. Its modern history starts in the year 708 when Bishop Aubert built the first sanctuary on the island (called Mont Tombe back then) in honor of the Archangel Michael. The Benedictines arrived in 966 and began to grow the monastery, which quickly became a place of pilgrimage, and a producer and library for illustrated manuscripts (“City of the Books,” it came to be called). The main group of buildings, the Merveille, is a testament to the expertise of the 13th century architects.
|It's a very... vertical experience.|
|In the cathedral (also a vertical experience!)|
We slowly wound our way down through the massive stone buildings, marveling at the Merveille, until we finally exited, still well above the surrounding sand plains. The fortifications added in the 14th century during the Hundred Years War are still evident. (The island held off a siege by the English for 30 years!) After the revolution at the end of the 1700s Mont Saint-Michel became a prison, curiously enough. “Bastille on the sea,” it was known as. France’s own Alcatraz…
|The refectory, where the monks ate; part of La Merveille. (Note: Those aren't real monks!)|
It was only in 1874 that the Abbey was named as a historical monument, and the long and complex restorations began. Today it is one of the most visited sites in France, and is listed as a "Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, in France".
To be clear, Santiago de Compostela, the goal of many pilgrimage routes throughout France and all of Europe, is in Spain. “In France” refers to this part of the route itself.
|The cloisters of Mont Saint Michel...|
|...with it's double row of pillars.|
It’s an impressive place, and we were very pleased to be able to visit it again. The environment seems to be changing, though—the bay is filling with sand, so that the Mont is only surrounded by water a few times a year. We settled in the garden to watch the tide come in, but at 7PM we got chased out: time for the night shift! There is a night time event at the monastery that requires a separate entry. It was half way to high tide by then, yet there were still groups far out on the flats.
|The empty bay. Shifting clouds and moving water channels make for ever-changing patterns. |
he English Channel is out there, far off...
|Still hours to sunset, but the shadows get long. Looking landward.|
We rode the shuttle back to the enormous parking lot, retrieved our car, and found an excellent restaurant in the near-by town. We had an exceptional meal, very well prepared from local ingredients, and served by a delightful waiter.
We got back to our Bed-and-Breakfast (a real one, not the air kind) late, but no matter as it was still light at 10PM! The next morning we were almost overwhelmed as the hostess plied us, and the other guests, with seemingly-endless trays of home-made yoghurt and jams. It was nearly 9:30 by the time we pried ourselves loose and began the long, long drive back south.
In this blog from November of 2021 we talked about Sacra di San Michele, another monastery dedicated to St. Michael on a promontory just outside Turin, Italy. And about our astonishment at the discovery that there are seven sacred sites dedicated to the Archangel, all of them on prominent geophysical features in a straight line from Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland in the north-west to Jerusalem in the south-east. Mont Saint-Michel is the third of these sites.
The astonishment is ongoing!
|A misty Mont Saint-Michel seen from the parking lot.|
Next up: Looks like we're working backwards, so our next stop will be St. Malo, and the extraordinary rock carvings not far away.