Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Mont St Michel: Realizing a Vision

Mont St Michel on top of the rock with the small town below
This morning we set off early from Tours to get to Mont St Michel, a cathedral on top of a rock that is quite an impressive sight.

The (headless!) archangel burns a hole in Aubert's head...
The story goes in 708, Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, had a dream that Archangel Michael told him to build a sanctuary. Aubert woke up and dismissed the dream, so the next night Archangel Michael came again to remind him of this project.

Aubert woke up on the third day and ignored the message from St Michel, so on that evening, the archangel got his message across by burning a hole in the skull of Aubert's head.

The moral of the story is not to disobey an archangel!

By the 10th century there was a series of simple buildings on the island, and by the 11th and 12th centuries, the buildings were built higher. By the 17th to 18th centuries flying buttresses were added to the cathedral, and homes were built at the bottom of the rock.

Looking out to see the very low tide around the island
Benedictine monks lived in the abbey, praying several times a day from 4am to sunset. They mostly read and meditated, and had meals in silence in the refectory where they could not eat meat from animals with four legs. As a result, they ate things like chicken, fish, vegetables and fruits, and washed it down with cider and wine.

During the Hundred Years War Mont St Michel was an example of military architecture, and following the French Revolution there were no more monks left and the building was turned into a prison. It was recognized as a Unesco world heritage site in 1979.

The beautiful chapel at the altar
When we arrived it was low tide -- very low -- we saw people out on the sandy banks, maybe some school students to study marine life. But if you're not familiar with the area it could be dangerous as some areas have quick sand.

Our tour bus could not go to the bottom of the rock because these large vehicles were deemed to cause an environmental impact on the area so we had to take a special shuttle that operated irregularly, but it was only a few minutes' ride.

For 9 euros, we saw a number of rooms in the abbey, the refectory as mentioned earlier, the gorgeous cathedral with very high vaulted ceilings that is currently being renovated, the guests' hall where royalty and nobility were received complete with massive fireplaces.

At the bottom of the abbey are numerous cafes and shops that line the streets, reminding me of my visit to Jiufen near Taipei, but much cleaner!

Joan of Arc helped drive the English out
The famous gourmet specialty here is the omelette at La Mere Poulard. The story goes she and her husband opened a hotel on Mont St Michel and served thick omelettes from her copper frying pan. The cost these days? 35 euros...

The brand La Mere Poulard also sells cookies. We bought some but will try them later. For dinner at our hotel in Bayeux, we tried a large slice of quiche Lorraine, and for dessert tarte tartin.

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