Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany stand the 'Wonder of the West', a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems posed by this unique natural site.
It was at the request of the Archangel Michel « chief of the celestial militia » that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand.
In the 11th century, the Romanesque abbey church was founded over a set of crypts where the rock comes to an apex, and the first monastery buildings were built up against its north wall.
In the 12th century, the Romanesque monastery buildings were extended to the west and south.
In the 13th century, a donation by the king of France, Philip Augustus, in the wake of his conquest of Normandy, enabled a start to be made on the Gothic section of the "Merveille ": two three-storey buildings, crowned by the cloister and the refectory.
History of the Mont Saint-Michel : the abbey churchIn the 14th century, the Hundred Years War made it necessary to protect the abbey behind a set of military constructions, enabling it to hold out against a siege lasting 30 years.
In the 15th century, the Romanesque chancel of the abbey church, broken down in 1421 was replaced by the Gothic Flamboyant chancel.
With Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostelle, this great spiritual and intellectual centre, was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the Medieval occident. For nearly one thousand years men, women and children went there by roads called « paths to paradise » hoping for the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel of judgement « Peseur des ames ».
The Abbey was turned into a prison during the days of the French Revolution and Empire, and needed to be restored before the end of the 19th century.
With the celebration of the monastic's 1000th anniversary, in the year 1966 a religious community moved back to what used to be the abbatial dwellings, perpuating prayer and welcome the original vocation of this place. Friars and sisters from "Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem" have been ensuring a spiritual presence since the year 2001.
At the same time as the abbey was developing a village grew up from the Middle Age. It flourished on the south-east side of the rock surrounded by walls dated for the most part from the Hundred Years war. This village has always a commercial vocation.
UNESCO has classed the Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage in 1979 and this mecca of tourism welcomes more than three million visitors a year.