Sunday 1 September 2019

mont saint michel au péril de la mer

We began our journey through Bretagne revisiting (for the third time) a spectacular site just on the Norman side of the Atlantic Coast along la Manche (Mor Breizh, the English Channel) with the abbey constructed according to feudal hierarchy (God represented by the church and monastery at the summit, administration and housing in the middle and supported by the farmers and fisherfolk below) on the tidal island of Mont Saint Michel, having acquired the monicker above for the perilous trip it offered for pilgrims that failed to time the rising and falling of the seas correctly.
Established by a pair of contemplative hermits at the beginning of the sixth century, the bishop Aubert having received successive visions from the archangel Michael to build an oratory there in the style of the first shrine dedicated to him at Gargano in the Lombardy, a mission was dispatched to the site in Italy to retrieve some relics—prompting reportedly a great wave to cleave the island from the mainland (discovered to their surprise upon returning). Just prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, the duchy took possession of the peninsula from a weakened and compromised Brittany and the community of monks that had since established themselves there had sided with William I and supported his invasion of England, currying the order considerable favour and autonomy—including a rocky outcropping off the Cornish coast. The Reformation and the later French Revolution (see also) meant that the abbey became more and more inconsequential and even dubbed the “Bastille of the Sea” the compound was used as a prison for ecclesiastics that did not support the Republic or its values. At one point, there were over seven hundred inmates in the employ of making straw hats and an accidental fire did significant damage to the structure—were it not for the intervention and advocacy of celebrities like Victor Hugo (previously) le Mont Saint Michel might have been razed to the ground. Though only fifty permanent residents reside on the island, including a dozen monks and nuns, some three million visit annually.