Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mont St. Michel

One of the unmistakable influences on the design of Rapunzel's kingdom in Tangled is Mont St. Michel. Located off the coast of Normandy in northern France, this tidal island has been the site of a monastery since the 8th century. The island itself held strategic importance since Roman times and was permanently occupied by Christian hermits since the 6th century. Bishop Aubert received a series of visions of the Archangel Michael in 708 CE, which compelled him to construct a shrine dedicated to him on the peak of the island. Over the subsequent centuries, the site was built up with a full Gothic abbey and a village hugging the sides of the island. The island became a major pilgrimage site, withstanding invasions by Vikings, the English, and the Hugenots. Finally it was the anti-religious fanaticism of the French Revolution that closed down the monastery, turning it into a prison. In the 19th century, Mont St. Michel was restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect and champion of the Middle Ages who also restored the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In May of 2013, Ashley and I visited Mont St. Michel as it stands today. What we discovered was a charming, but crowded, Mediaeval attraction. At a five hour drive from Paris each way, we were at the mercy of a scheduled tour with only a few harried hours inside the abbey itself (even after we ditched our tour guide and the busload of people we came with!). We have already conspired that on our next trip to France, we are going to stay in one of the island's tiny inns for a couple nights. Our brief taste of life on Mont St. Michel has only succeeded in whetting our appetite for further exploration of its winding streets and vaulted chapels.

Gates of the Island.

Narrow, winding Mediaeval streets in the village.

Looking back over the tidal flats from the village.

Entrance to the abbey.

A view of the centre spire, topped by a statue of St. Michael.

The chapel, at the topmost part of the structure, closest to God.

The view over the tidal plain from the balcony of the chapel. 

The exterior of the chapel, with the spire.

The cloister garden. Monks would not be allowed to leave the abbey,
so the cloister garden provided a much-needed natural space.

Ashley enjoying the cloister garden.

La Salle des Hôtes, the dining hall for socially important pilgrims to the abbey.

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