The History of Mont Saint-Michel Monastery
The main attraction of the French province of Normandy is the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, towering over a huge sandy bay. Since time immemorial, a huge number of pilgrims from all over Europe have come to this abbey to contact the shrines since “a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey was dedicated to the archangel St Michael” (“Mont-Saint-Michel and It’s Bay”, n.d.). The history of the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel started from the chapel, which was built on a granite rock island in 708 by the Bishop of Avranches, Saint-Aubert. Currently, the abbey has about a hundred people. In 1879, the island was connected to the mainland with a dike of 2 km length. Mont Saint-Michel is a granite formation with a diameter of 930 m and a height of 84 m, which is located at the mouth of the river Kyusnon (Mont Saint Michel, n.d.). Every 24 hours, 50 minutes there are ebbs and flows in the bay, which is the strongest in Europe. Water can move away from the Saint-Michel at 18 km, and extend up to 20 kilometers into the coast. At high tide, the island is surrounded by water, and at low tide, the hill is surrounded by sand. The height of the tide reaches 14 meters.
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A fortress wall surrounds the city on the south side of the lower part of the mountain. The gate system protects the entrance to the city. Further behind there is a large moat Royal gate with an arched walkway and a drawbridge. There is a narrow gate near the main entrance, which has a drawbridge. By Royal gate, flanking them adjoins round Royal Tower, the first tower of the outer wall. The outer wall, which is flanked by nine towers, raises the hill to the abbey, tower Claudine completes it.
In the times of the ancient Romans, Mont Saint-Michel was not an island. Grim uninhabited rock, washed by the waves of the Atlantic, was called the Tombs Mountain – perhaps Celts used this place for their burials. Druids have come here to worship the setting sun, and later the Romans for a long time kept this ritual. The mysterious legends were born in the sinking in the sea rays of the sun. According to one of them, Julius was secretly buried here in a gold coffin with gold sandals. In the fifth century, part of the coast fell into the water; Tombstone Mountain turned into an island, separated from the mainland by nearly a six-kilometer strip of sea. Only twice a day, at low tide, the sea stripped muddy bottom and opened the dangerous passage to the island. Construction of the monastery’s church began in 1023 and lasted nearly a century. The Romanesque church of the abbey was designed in the 11th century by an Italian architect named William de Volpiano, who dared to place the transept crossing at the top of the hill (Mont St-Michel, 2005). The tower and the nave, built in the Romanesque style, retained their original character. The church raised high above the mountain and was immediately attacked by lightning. Every 25-30 years on the island, large fires broke out. In addition, once, in 1204, France annexed Normandy obstinate Mont Saint Michel was burned already by the will of the people. Completely destroyed the old abbey, and in 1211 French king Philip II, wishing obviously atone for his sin before the archangel Michael and burned the monastery, began the construction of the famous abbey of La Merve. In just 17 years, an incredible period for the time – an architectural masterpiece was created, which is considered now a recognized example of medieval Gothic architecture. On the ground floor, there is a room for poor pilgrims; here they had to live and eat. Above them, in the hall for guests, Abbot took and treated high-ranking persons. A dining hall for the monks was on the third floor. In the western section of the first floor is a storage room. The first floor housed the Knights’ Hall, which with its huge ovens actually served to heat the monastery. This room was originally worn by the name of the scriptorium, designed to work with manuscripts, but it was too dark, so all the monks of the manuscript were carried out in the refectory, where smooth and clear light shone from an unusually narrow, high windows. image6.jpg
The third floor of the west wing held the porch – a kind of “haven of tranquility”, constructed for reading. The unique architecture of the gallery, as if suspended between heaven and earth, as one of the chroniclers of the monastery said, “Let God down to man, without losing His greatness.”
During the Hundred Years War (1337-1453 years), Mont Saint-Michel, which has not been taken by the British, has been inspiring the famous Joan of Arc, and after the war, its fame extended far beyond France. During this period, the mass pilgrimage of children peaked. Leaving home and parents, thousands of boys and girls aged 7 to 15 years old were sent to the Mont Saint-Michel. The mysterious heavenly call gathered them from all over Europe – from Poland and Flanders, Germany and Switzerland. In 1469, King Louis XI established the order of chivalry of the Archangel Michael, and in 1472 posted in one of the chambers of the monastery of the raw iron cage for dangerous criminals – infernal invention Cardinal Balu. Cage was a palisade of thick wooden sticks, ironbound; it hung on chains from the roof so that every movement of the prisoner cells begins to sway. Being caught in the cage one could hope for nothing despite the efforts of compassionate of the monks, in a short period of time a victim went crazy and died from hunger and cold. Cage had served the French kings for 300 years, one of the last among tormented was Victor Dubourg, a journalist, was convicted in 1745 for a pamphlet of Louis XV. Dubourg died a year later after being imprisoned, and in 1777, the terrible cell was finally destroyed. Under Napoleon, the monastery served as a state prison, and only in 1863, the prison was closed, and the Mont Saint-Michel was declared as a national treasure. The last important detail of the image of Mont Saint-Michel was in 1897 – the tower of the cathedral was crowned with the neo-Gothic spire and a 500-pound gilded figure of the Archangel Michael.
The History of the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel
In 966, the Benedictine monks with the permission of the Pope founded the abbey and erected monastery spending the money of Duke Richard I of Normandy. In 1017, Abbot Gilderbertom II began construction of the central building of the monastery; over the next five centuries, it was fully completed. Thanks to the work and faith of the Benedictine monks, the simple chapel has transformed into a magnificent abbey built of granite, which was mined in the Chausey Islands. At the beginning of the XII century, Abbot Roger II was constructed on the northern side of the tower, which is a part of the Knights’ Hall and refectory for now. At that time, the abbey was one of the pilgrimage centers in Europe. The influence of the monastery was constantly growing (Mont Saint Michel, 2011). In 1204, the French King, Philip Augustus, captures Normandy. The settlement at the monastery was captured and burned by the ally of King, Guy de Tours, as a result, the fire severely damaged the monastery. Philip Augustus, to redeem himself, has sacrificed the abbey a huge sum, and funded the construction of buildings on the northern slope, later described as a “Miracle”. In 1128, the construction of the Miracle was completed. The architecture of the monastery has not changed To the XIV century. Abbots, generation by generation, gradually built up the island. The Hundred Years’ War, which broke out between England and France, has led to the fact that the abbey was deprived of income from its British possessions. In 1356, the British took an attempt to own the monastery, but the siege was unsuccessful. In 1386, the abbot of the monastery, Pierre Roy, constructed enhancements for the entrance to the monastery for more safety and built three towers. In the future, Abbot Robber Jolivet, who succeeded after Roy, erected the walls at the foot of the monastery. In 1469, the French king, Louis XI, established the Abbey knightly order of St. Michael. In 1523, the construction of the Gothic choir started. “Through the Romanesque arches of 1058, you look into the exuberant choir of latest Gothic, finished in 1521” (Adams, 2003).
That year, the monks were denied the right to choose the abbot of the monastery. From that time, a king only had the right. Appointed by the king, no by priests, so-called “abbots” were completely devoid of spirituality. This has led to the inappropriate treasury spending of the monastery. All this made monks leave the monastery. The flow of pilgrims to the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was gradually running out. By 1580, there were 13 monks left in the monastery. Lightning destroyed tower after fourteen years passed. The temple remained dilapidated for decades because of the small number of monks living there. In 1176, a fire happened again, which destroyed the Romanesque entrance to the temple. The system of choosing the abbot of the monastery continued to exert its destructive effect until 1870. During the French Revolution, the abbey was closed and converted into the prison (Home, n.d.). The monks were expelled, and all the monastery stuff was sold out. With the arrival of Napoleon III, Mont Saint-Michel has regained its former glory, the prison was abolished, and the monastery was declared a national treasure of France. Recovery work has begun. After the French Revolution, the Benedictine abbey served as a prison, and for now, it is visited by thousands of tourists. Perched on a small rocky island in the north-west coast of France and connected to the mainland by a causeway, the Mont Saint-Michel in 1979, is the recognized monument of world importance. The famous abbey of Mont Saint-Michel represents all the medieval history of France.
The Architecture of the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey
Despite some alterations, this building until today largely retained its Romanesque appearance with the characteristic rounded arches, thick walls and massive arches, while choirs, tuning-in XV century, is made in the Gothic style. image2.jpg
The architecture can be clearly distinguished into three levels: the temple itself, which is standing on a mountaintop, the middle level, where several crypts and rooms of the monks are, and, finally, the last level, where warehouses, small restaurants, and houses are located. According to the idea of architects who created the final form of the monastery, the first level should correspond to the beginning of the spiritual, the other – the church, and the third – is a regular human world. “Peaceful cloisters connect various rooms where monks could tend their gardens (food and herbs for medicine), meditate and read the Bible” (Steves, n.d.)
Cloister (Fr. Cloitre) or Monastic Dormitory
Cloister – it is a porch around a small garden, located in the western part of the Miracle (Fr. La Merveille). It is often called “the true miracle.” The modern garden was built during the restoration in 1965. Prior to that, there were attempts to construct various buildings in its place, but those were unsuccessful. As in other monasteries, a cloister of the monks was a gathering place, a place for prayers and other general activities. It is connected directly to the church, refectory, dormitory, crypt Notre-Dame-des-Trente-Cierges, and the Knight’s Hall.
Refectory: The refectory has a barrel vault. During the construction, the architects came to the following conclusion: to make 59 small windows instead of large ones in the north and south walls that allowed to get soft light in the room. Each of these windows is wedged between the columns. In 1776, there was a big fire in the abbey, which has destroyed the Roman facade of the temple and three western spans. Therefore, there is a large space in front of the temple now. Medieval architects totally did not anticipate the subsequent influx of tourists and were less wasteful. Originally was planned to build three parts of the Miracle, but the implementation of the project did not have enough funds and only two parts have been built, the upper part of them are, respectively, the cloister and the refectory. In the upper floor, inbuilt miracle envisaged Hall Chapter of the Order of the Benedictines, under it – the library, and at the bottom – the stables.
The Second Level
To begin the construction of the building, which could accommodate a large number of pilgrims, the Benedictines had to solve a complex problem: sea rock could not be the basis for a monumental building. It was then decided to build four chapels, which served as a platform for future building. Thus, there is a large crypt of pylons in the east, in the south – the crypt of Saint-Martin, in the north – the crypt Notre-Dame-des-Trente-Cierges and west – Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre.
Hall of Knights (scriptorium)
Scriptorium is equipped with all the necessary amenities: fireplace, toilets. One can get to cloister, refectory and the poorhouse (space for almsgiving) through it. Scribes and miniatures of manuscripts worked here, some of them can be seen at City Hall Avranches. The scriptorium of the monastery is located outside the fence, so other people could enter it. Through a hatch in the middle of the room, one could go down into the cellar with food. The doorway of the hall was meant for the passage to the library, which was never built. Some researchers believe that there a traditional gathering place of the monks of the Order of St. Benedict was, welcoming newcomers to the brothers, and other ceremonies. The name “Knights Hall” comes either from the Knights of the Order of St. Michael, founded by Louis XI, or associated with the Knights of Saint-Michel, who were defending the abbey in the XVII century.
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The Crypt of St. Maarten (Saint Martin)
Crypt of Saint-Martin, which was constructed in the XI century, is the basis for the southern part of the transept of the main temple. The nave of the chapel is almost square. The span of the arch is 9 m long. This is one of the areas that has remained virtually unchanged since 1050. The existing manuscripts do not give any information on the ceremonies that would be held here. The remains of the mysterious puzzle are preserved on the floor of the crypt, the meaning of which has not yet been deciphered.
The Ossuary (Fr. Ossuaire – Cemetery)
It was built in 1060, after the construction of the Inner stairs, Grand-Degre was rebuilt. Now here is the big wheel, which was used to lift food to prisoners. The wheel was installed in 1820.
Chapel of St. Etienne (Saint Etienne)
Since the chapel is located close enough to the ossuary, it is believed that the posthumous ceremony for monks was performed here.
Crypt of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre
This is the oldest part of the monastery. It serves as a support for the western part of the nave of the church. Thus, it remained unchanged. The size of the chapel is 11×13 meters. Wall thickness is 2 meters, the walls consist of roughly hewn blocks. The chapel can accommodate about a hundred people and be built to replace the building, built by Archbishop Aubert.
Crypt of Notre-Dame-des-Trente-Cierges
This crypt supports the northern part of the transept of the upper church. It was a special crypt for the initiated. It received its name from the 30 candelabra of candles. The monks began a day here; therefore, all 30 candles were lit. There are rare frescoes of the XII century, one of the few remaining in the monastery.
Crypt of the Great Pillars
Crypt of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre was built in the XV century to support the Gothic church choirs, reconstructed after a fire in 1421 (Romanesque choir was destroyed). There are 10 columns at the center of the crypt, 5 m in circumference, which in turn support 10 choir columns. The crypt also served to move around the various rooms of the abbey. Thus, it allowed seeing:
- The passage in the crypt of St. Maarten;
- Staircase leading to the choir of the church;
- Fortified bridge to enter into the interior of the abbey;
- Direct access to the first floor of the Miracle, which is opposite the entrance.
The Third Level
There is a direct entrance to the abbey and various utility rooms. Unfortunately, it turned into a ticket hall and shop for the sale of souvenirs now. Here, not far from the entrance, there was the porch of the Romanesque monastery. The crypt was called from the cold north wind, which is common in these parts. The crypt was not heated, so there was quite cool sometimes.
Cultural and Religious Significance of Mont-Saint-Michel
The title of the spiritual center returned to the Mont Saint-Michel these days. The Abbey is still in effect, and each visitor can take part in the services, which are held here. The complex itself is a magnificent example of the architecture of the early and late Middle Ages. All the buildings have been constructed in an unusual place, the island-rock, and they themselves are amazing and wonderful. Everything here so perfectly reflects the life of the clergy in the past as well as today. Many of the buildings and the buildings themselves halls and rooms were typical of the time. Chapel, monastery gardens and other facilities are a clear example of beauty and obedience of the monks, their humility and their willingness to sacrifice. The atmosphere here is extraordinary, and this is what attracts thousands of tourists. Peace and quiet are hovering over the island, and the beauty of the natural beauty and elegance of the architecture combine perfectly in tune with the status of a holy place. Today, Mont Saint-Michel, as one of the major tourist attractions in France, can be compared only to Paris and Versailles.