1300 years ago Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey's architecture demonstrates the competence and expertise of multiple generations of builders. The Abbey's building over 1,300 years on an unfavorable terrain marks an unrivaled technical and aesthetic feat. The abbey was actually a series of chapels built one after another between 798 and 996.
The first monks arrived on the scene in 635 and started building their monastery on the island in about 670. They constructed its main body out of limestone extracted from the surrounding area. The walls are about 20 feet (6 m) thick and include several chambers for dining and sleeping as well as a library and a refectory. The original roof was made of wood but was replaced by thatch around 825 and then again by tiles around 1250. The last major reconstruction took place in 1872 when the nave was opened up with wooden beams and plaster walls.
It took the monks about 13 years to build their first chapel on the island and about eight months to build another one. The third one took them about three years to complete. This shows that they were capable builders who knew how to use their time wisely.
The original cost of the project is estimated to be around $20 million in today's money. It was probably paid by selling livestock on the market place at Mont-Saint-Michel.
The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel is an incredible architectural marvel, with Gothic spires reaching 155 meters above the sea. The highest point of the monument, known as "La Merveille" ("The Marvel"), is a medieval art masterpiece. It's a statue of Christ on the cross, carved from one single block of marble.
In addition to its religious significance, the abbey is important for its historical value too. The first monastery was built here in AD 708 by Charlemagne to house his relics: his heart and his right index finger. Over the years, the site has also been used as a royal residence, a prison, and a military camp. Today, parts of the original buildings remain intact within the surrounding walls of the village of Mont-Saint-Michel.
The abbey is well known all over the world because of its association with Christianity. No one knows how exactly this voice originates, but it's said to be the voice of a man who lived in the 5th century and called himself "Celestine V". He retired to the mountaintop and left the abbey in the hands of another monk, Eudes.
The island was originally known as Mont-Tombe, but it was renamed Mont-Saint-Michel in the 8th century after St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, constructed an oratory there after seeing the archangel St. Michael. It quickly became a pilgrimage site, and a Benedictine abbey was established there in 966. The abbey grew to become one of the most important in France, but it was destroyed during the French Revolution and not rebuilt until after 1825.
Today, visitors can stay on the island at one of its three hotels, which include a luxury hotel with a fine dining restaurant, a family-friendly residence center, and a youth hostel with 97 beds.
Mont Saint Michel is located in Normandy, France. The island's exact location is between the towns of Ouistreham and Caen. It covers an area of about 1.5 square miles (4 km2) and has a population of about 2,000 people.
The name Mont Saint Michel comes from the french words "mont" which means mountain and "saint michel" which comes from the anglicism saint which means holy and michel comes from the latin word for mill which is used to describe any hill or elevation.
In addition to being a pilgrimage destination, Mont Saint Michel is famous for its church architecture and its role in the Norman conquest of England.
The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel would become a center of worship, devotion, and pilgrimage over time. In 1204, the monastery was assaulted by a band of war-hungry Breton knights led by Guy de Thouars. The attack was part of an effort by King Philip II of France to gain control of the region. During the assault, some of the monks were killed and the rest fled into the surrounding woods for protection. After the attack, King Philip ordered that no one should be allowed to live on the island except for the monks. He also banned all fishing in the area as a way of reminding everyone that they were not allowed to invade the land again.
There have been many attempts over the years to destroy or damage the abbey, but it has withstood the test of time because of its unique location and design.
Currently, the island is open to visitors who can explore at will. There are no restrictions on visiting hours or entry fees. However, photography is not permitted inside the church or anywhere else for that matter.
In addition, there are several museums on the island that offer additional information about its history. Visitors are free to explore at their own pace without any guides so there's really no better place to visit if you want to get a feel for what it was like when this amazing site was under threat of destruction.
While a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris is conceivable, it is a lengthy and grueling adventure. Plan to stay at least one night in the region instead. The Mont Saint-Michel is located on the boundary of the Brittany and Normandy districts, both of which are worth seeing.
The best way to see the Mont Saint-Michel is with an organized tour because there are a lot of steps to climb up and several buildings to visit. However, you can also do some exploring by walking along the shoreline or through the villages near the mountain. If you want to save time, go during low season or early in the morning.
There are two ways to get to the Mont Saint-Michel: by train or car. By train, you will need to first arrive in Pont-Audemer and then switch trains to reach the destination. This process will take about an hour. In car, you can head directly for Mont Saint-Michel after crossing the French-Brittany border. The journey should take about three hours without stopping.
Once at the top of the mountain, you will find many restaurants where you can eat traditional Breton cuisine. There are also shops where you can buy souvenirs and snacks. At the end of the day, return to your hotel and have dinner there before heading back to Paris in the morning.