Normandy Sights

Abbaye du Mont-St-Michel

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Published 10/16/2017

Fodor's Review

A magnetic beacon to millions of travelers each year, this "wonder of the Western World"—a 264-foot mound of rock topped by a history-shrouded abbey—remains the crowning glory of medieval France. Wrought by nature and centuries of tireless human toil, the sea-surrounded mass of granite adorned with the soul-lifting silhouette of the Abbaye du Mont-St-Michel may well be your most lasting image of Normandy. The abbey is perched on a 264-foot-high rock a few hundred yards off the coast: it's surrounded by water during the year's highest tides and by desolate sand flats the rest of the time. Be warned: tides in the bay are dangerously unpredictable. The sea can rise up to 45 feet at high tide and rushes in at incredible speed—more than a few ill-prepared tourists over the years have drowned. Also, be warned that there are patches of dangerous quicksand.

Legend has it that the Archangel Michael appeared in 709 to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, inspiring him to build an oratory

on what was then called Mont Tombe. The rock and its shrine were soon the objects of pilgrimages. The original church was completed in 1144, but additional buildings were added in the 13th century to accommodate monks as well as the hordes of pilgrims who flocked here even during the Hundred Years' War, when the region was in English hands. During the period when much of western France was subjected to English rule, the abbey remained a symbol, both physical and emotional, of French independence. Because of its legendary origins and the sheer exploit of its centuries-long construction, the abbey became known as the "Merveille de l'Occident" (Wonder of the Western World).

Year-round, an hour-long guided tour in English (two a day and night in high season) and French (up to two an hour) can take you through the impressive Romanesque and Gothic abbey and the spectacular Église Abbatiale, the abbey church, which crowns the rock, as well as the Merveille, a 13th-century, three-story collection of rooms and passageways. La Merveille was built by King Philippe Auguste around and on top of the monastery; on its second floor is the Mont's grandest chamber, the Salle des Chevaliers. Another longer tour, which also includes the celebrated Escalier de Dentelle (Lace Staircase), and the pre-Roman, exquisitely evocative Notre-Dame-sous-Terre has a higher ticket price and is only given in French. Invest in at least one tour while you are here—some of them get you on top of or into things you can't see alone. If you choose to proceed independently, stop halfway up Grande-Rue at the medieval parish church of St-Pierre to admire the richly carved side chapel with its dramatic statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon.

Give yourself at least half a day here, and follow your nose. The mount is full of nooks, crannies, little gardens, and echoing views from the ramparts. It's worth lingering to see the Mont spectacularly illuminated, nightly from dusk to midnight.

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Sight Information

Address:

Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, 50170, France

Phone:

/02–33–89–80–00

Sight Details:

  • €9, €13.50 with audio guide

Published 10/16/2017

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