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Mont-St-Michel : La Merveille de l'Occident

mont sy michel 44 km south of Granville via D 973, N 175n and D 43 : 123 km southwest of Caen, 67 km north of Rennes, 325 km west of Paris.

    Wrought by nature and centuries of tireless human toil, this sea-surrounded mass of granite adorned with the soul-lifting silhouette of the abbey of Mont-St-Michel may well be your most lasting image of Normandy. The abbey is perched on a 264-ft-high rock a few hundred yards off the coast : it's surrounded by water during the year's highest tides and by desolate sand flats the rest of the time. Be warned : tides in the bay are dangerously unpredictable. The sea can rise up to 45 ft at high tide and rushes in at incredible speed - more than a few ill-prepared tourists over the year have drowned. Also, be warned that that there are patches of dangerous quicksand.

    Because of its legendary origins and the sheer exploit of its construction, the abbey is known as the Merveille de l'Occident (Wonder of the Western World) : the granite used to build it was transported from the nearby Isles of Chausey and hauled up to the site. The abbey's construction took more than 500 years, from 1017 to 1521. Legend has it that the archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches., inspiring him to built an oratory on what was then called Mont-Tombe. The original church was completed in 1144, but further buildings were added in the 13th century to accommodate monks as well as the hordes of pilgrims who flocked here even during the Hundred Year's War, when the region was in english hands. The Romanesque Choir was rebuilt in Gothic style during the 15th and the 16th Centuries. The abbey's monastic independence was undermined during the 17th century, when the monks began to flout the strict rules and discipline of their order, drifting into a state of decadence that culminated in their dispersal and the abbey's conversion into a prison, well before the French Revolution. In 1874, the former abbey was handed over to a governmental agency responsible for the preservation of historic monuments.  Emmanuel Fremiet's great gilt statute of St-Michael was added to the spire in 1897. Monks now live and work here again, as in medieval times : you can join them for daily mass at 12h15.

Next page - Click here to visit the fabulous Mont-St-Michel Abbey

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