Mont Saint-Michel

Facts about Mont Saint-Michel

We found 22 facts about Mont Saint-Michel

UNESCO World Heritage since 1979

The island of Mont Saint-Michel, together with the sanctuary of the Archangel Michael erected on it, is one of the most visited places in Normandy.

An average of 3.2 million people visit the site annually, making it the most visited tourist attraction in France outside of the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. The town on the island has been given the status of a historical monument, and UNESCO has listed the island’s facilities and the bay where it is located as a World Heritage Site.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel (Saint-Michel Hill) is a granite rocky tidal islet with a circumference of about 960 meters, in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It is a piece of land whose connection to the mainland is only exposed at low tide (the regularly recurring rise and fall of the ocean water level caused by the Earth’s gravitational interaction with the Moon and Sun).

The islet is connected to the mainland by an artificial causeway 1,800 meters long.

The island is located in the English Channel, in southwestern Normandy.
It is located east of the mouth of the Couesnon River, in the Manche department.
The Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, its coastal strip, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its aesthetic value and importance to Christian tradition.

The bay covers an area of about 500 square kilometers, with a second granite islet, Tombelaine, in addition to the island of Mont Saint-Michel.

Due to the significant tidal movements in this region (the largest tidal range in Europe), much of the bay is exposed at low tide. The sea retreats at high speed for more than 10 km, but returns just as quickly.

The sanctuary of the Archangel Michael was built on the island. It occupies a small part of the territory of Mont Saint-Michel.
The original name of the sanctuary, used throughout the Middle Ages, was Mons Sancti Michaeli in periculo mari (St. Michael's Mountain in the Perilous Sea).
In ancient times, Mont Saint-Michel was inhabited by Celtic tribes.
The hill at the time was dedicated to Belenus, the Gallic sun god.
During the period of Roman rule in Armorica (a historical land in ancient Gaul), the island was known as Mont Tombe (Cemetery Mountain).
The Romans continued to develop there the cult of the Sun god, whom they called Mithras. Local legend has it that Julius Caesar was buried on the hill in golden shoes and a coffin.
In the 4th century, when Christianity appeared in Armorica, a chapel dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was erected on the island.
Later, a chapel appeared at the foot of the rock in honor of St. Synphorian, the first martyr of the Gauls. There were also hermitages there, which these chapels took care of.
According to legend, in 709 CE the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop of Avranches, St. Aubert, asking him to build a shrine on a rock.

The bishop twice disregarded the request made in the apparition, until finally St. Michael touched the bishop's head with his finger and burned a hole in it, but without killing him - a skull with a hole belonging to St. Aubert is still kept in Avranches Cathedral.

Soon after, a chapel was built in the grotto, which was named Mont Saint-Michel-au-péril-de-la-Mer (Saint Michael's Hill in the Dangerous Sea).

The construction of the sanctuary was associated with alleged miracles.
According to legend, the morning dew drew the outline of the foundations of the sanctuary, a stolen cow appeared where the first scrap of granite should have been, and an infant holding her in her arms pushed away with her feet a boulder that was blocking the road. St. Michael himself is also said to have appeared and pointed out a spring of fresh water.
In 966 monks from Saint-Wandrille came to the island and founded a new Benedictine abbey there - the Abbey of SaintWandrille de Fontenelle.
In 1256 and 1264, King Louis IX of France made pilgrimages to the abbey. Numerous pilgrims also came there, and in order to take proper care of them, a town was built at the foot of the sanctuary.
During the Hundred Years’ War, the English repeatedly attempted to conquer the island, without success.
The sanctuary and the town were surrounded by a ring of defensive walls. A souvenir of the assaults are two siege machines left under the walls.
Since 1523, the abbot of the sanctuary was appointed directly by the King of France.

Often it was a layman who benefited from the income of the monastery. The monastery depopulated, also due to the religious wars, and a prison was built on the grounds of the abbey.

 In 1622 the monastery passed into the hands of the Benedictines of the Congregation of St. Maur, who did not care about the preservation of the place.

During the French Revolution, the island was renamed Mont-Michel and Mont-Libre.

After the last monks were expelled from the abbey in 1791, it was transformed into a prison, where more than 300 priests who refused to accept the new civil constitution were held.

An optical telegraph station was established on the bell tower, which included Mont Saint-Michel into the route of the telegraph line from Paris to Brest.

In 1863 the prison was closed and the abbey passed into the hands of the Bishop of Coutances.
In 1879, the causeway was fortified, so that Mont Saint-Michel ceased to be an island and became a promontory jutting out to sea.
The city walls around the island complex date back to the 13th - 15th century.

They include six double encircled towers and a bastion tower. The city is located on a rocky hill below the abbey and has grown around the only road Grande Rue street that leads to the sanctuary.

In the northern part of the island is the Gothic monastery of La Merveille, built between 1211 and 1228. It houses, among other things, a scriptorium where the monks copied manuscripts, and in 1469 the hall became the meeting place for the members of the Order of the Knights of St. Michael.

At the top of the spire of the abbey church is a statue of St. Michael.
The granite rock on which the abbey was built rises 92 meters above sea level. Together with the statue of St. Michael, it reaches 170 meters.
In the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, there is a phenomenon of moving sands.

This phenomenon is caused by an extraordinary tidal range, which can be up to 14 meters difference in level. This has been the cause of numerous drownings in the past, and occasionally still occurs today, although more often it involves cars that have been parked too long at lower levels.

Thanks to such spectacular tides, the island was very difficult to conquer.

In Celtic times, the seashore was 48 km from Mont Saint-Michel and Tombelaine.
Around these places stretched the forest of Scissy. From the third century, the water level gradually rose and the sea engulfed the forest. A particularly violent tide on the equinox of 709 completed the work.
On the coast of Mont Saint-Michel the "moutons de pré-salé" (salt meadow lambs) are bred.

This breeding was initiated by Duchess Anne of Brittany, who ordered the land to be cleaned up and prepared for cultivation and breeding. The animals bred there provide meat of exceptional taste (brackish pastures).

There is also a rich manure - tangue - made from the material carried by the rivers, mixed with the crushed shells carried by the tides.

Twice a year catholic pilgrims come to Mont Saint-Michel.
This happens on the first Sunday of May and on September 29, when the celebrations of the cult of St. Michael the Archangel take place. Usually about 60 thousand pilgrims show up there.
The island is an inspiration for film artists, musicians and writers.

Among others, the 1990 movie Mindwalk was set on Mont Saint-Michel. In 1996, Mike Oldfield composed an instrumental piece dedicated to the island.

In 2005, French writer Maxime Chattam named Mont Saint-Michel one of the most important places in his book Le Sang du Temps.

The Cornish island of St. Michael's Mount, which is also tidal, is considered the British equivalent of Mont Saint-Michel.
It also has a religious site - the 15th century Chapel of St. Michael.
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