Mont Saint-Michel Island Abbey, Normandy, France :: Travel blog

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont Saint-Michel is a small medieval island in Normandy. You can find here an abbey, castle, city, sea and many beautiful views, just in one place. This is definitely must-see when you travel across France.

If you like medieval cities, especially that beautiful as Mont Saint-Michel, you should visit the island for one day trip. This is one of my favorite places in France because as a photographer I was able to take here really good photos.

You can see here characteristic for the epoch and feudal society structural composition: abbey and monastery on top (God), below you can find the great halls, and after that stores and houses. On the bottom (outside the walls) there are houses of farmers and fishermen.

Nowadays only 44 people live here (2009), and it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 1979 and it's classified as a historical monument from 1874. It's only 150 kilometers from the Paris.

History of Mont Saint-Michel, France. "Mont Saint-Michel, Normandie" painted by Edward William Cooke in 1831.

History

This probably won't be the full history of Mont Saint-Michel (I will leave it to the place guides), but I will try to describe it shortly here. Until the 8th century, St Michel belonged to the Diocese of the Avranches and was called Mont Tombe and it was used in the sixth and seventh centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Gallo-Roman culture.

The legend

There is a local legend says that the bishop of Avranches, Saint Aubert, had a vision when he was sleeping. Saint Michael, the patron of sailors, revealed to him and told him to build a church on Mont Tombe. 

Saint Aubert fought it was just a dream and he ignored it. After some time Saint Michael appeared to him two more times and finally, due to the bishop's ignorance, he had to bore a hole into Aubert’s skull with his finger to made him build the church.

Saint Aubert skull, Mont Saint-Michel

The legend did not come up with anything, as the real skull of Saint Aubert can be found in Saint-Gervais Basilica and there is a real hole in it.

The scientists say, that this hole it's from trepanation. Maybe it is, maybe not.

Enough for the legend, let's get back to the history. Soon after the church was completed, it was captured by the Vikings who thrown away the monks. They came back in 966 with the consent of the Duke of Normandy and they build here a church and the abbey.

During the 100-Years War, the Duke of Brittany was leading the siege of Mont Saint Michel for 30 years (!). During it, he killed and destroyed the city, but never conquer the fortified abbey. When the war was finished, the King of France gave the money to rebuild the village and construct the new Gothic monastery and refectory.

Mont Saint-Michel was a monastery and abbey till the 17th century when it was closed and changed into a prison. In 1874 this place became a historical monument.

There are some interesting places in the city of Mont Saint-Michel, not only the abbey.

What to see

Mont Saint-Michel is a small city, but there is still a lot of things to do and see, not only abbey but many more interesting places.

Walk through the city

Just after you enter the city there are already few interesting tourist attractions worth to visit. You can first go to the Burgher's Guardroom (it's now a tourist office). Next thing you will probably notice will be the medieval King's Gate, which is really awesome!

After the gate, you will see the main Mont Saint-Michel city street called Grand Rue. This is the way that will later lead you to the abbey. But until that, there are many shops, just walk a bit and feel like in the medieval old city.

Way to Mont Saint-Michel abbey

It's also worth to visit St-Pierre parish church. There is a staircase called Grand Degre with about 350 steps and this is a direct way to the monastery. No elevators.

Museums

There are four museums in the Mont Saint-Michel city. If you want to get some knowledge about construction and history of the city and abbey, see Archeoscope museum. There is also another history museum, called Museum of History. This one is more about medieval history.

The city has some maritime history and you will be able to discover it in the Maritime and Ecology museum. If you want to visit Bertrand Duguesclin's home, who was the military commander during the 100-Years War, which was built in 1365 for his wife, visit Tiphaine's House.

Mont Saint-Michel Abbey Monastery

The Mont Saint-Michel Abbey

The Mont Saint-Michel abbey is divided into two parts: the church and the Merville sanctuary. Both are amazing, you must see it and you won't be disappointed walking so high.

The church has two chapels: the first one is under the north wing and it's called the Trente-Cierges chapel. You can find the second one under the south wing, called the Saint-Martin chapel.

The second part of the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is the Merveille. This is the area where monks are living. This is also divided into east and west parts. The east side was the one which was built firstly and contains three rooms: dining hall, host's room, and the chaplaincy. The west side of the monastery has also three rooms: the wine cellar, the cloister, which is the garden quadrangle and the Knights room.

One of the streets in Mont Saint-Michel.

Practical tourist information

  • An adult ticket to the abbey costs 9 euro.
  • There are also 1-hour guided tours.
  • The abbey is opened every day (there are a few exceptions, so better check it).
  • Do not try to get to the city another way than by the bridge (without a guide), because the sudden tide can trap or drown you.
  • There are not many sleeping options in the Mont Saint-Michel, so if you are planning to spend a night here it's much better (and cheaper) to find an accommodation elsewhere outside the city.

How to get here from Paris?

If you want to get here from the Paris by car (it's probably the best and the cheapest way), you should follow the road signs to Normandy and after that take the A84 from Caen that heads southwest until you reach Avranches. You are almost there, get the D43 road and follow the signs that lead to Mont Saint-Michel. Remember, that the parking can be very crowded. From Paris, the drive will take you about 4 hours. Of course, if you are or planning to be in the city of Paris, you must also read my article about interesting places in Paris.

You can get here also by train. From Paris to Rennes, and then by bus to Mont St. Michel called Keolis Emeraude. Another route is by getting the train to Pontorson, and then a bus number 15 to Mont Saint-Michel.

Conclusion

Mont Saint-Michel and the whole city is one of the most beautiful medieval abbeys I've ever seen. It is a magical place and you will definitely feel the old atmosphere when wondering its small streets.

Of course, it's a tourist place and there is a lot of people everywhere, but don’t let that keep you from visiting it. You can also visit it in less popular months like February to avoid the crowds. I can recommend the Mont Saint-Michel as one of the best places to visit for a one-day trip.

If you liked Mont Saint-Michel, you must also read an article about 13 old medieval castles in England, where you can find very similar (but smaller) monastery called St Michael’s Mount.

Wojciech Kuźma

Hey there! My name is Wojtek and I am very happy that you came to my travel blog. I've been traveling the world for a few good years now and I still want more.

On my website I describe the adventures that have happened to me, you will also find here a collection of valuable tips for tourists and travelers. If you liked this article, be sure to leave a comment and read some more!


4.75 | 4 votes
Comments: 1
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