After leaving St. James, we continued to head toward Mont Saint-Michel, an island and monastery located in the western corner of Normandy, close to the country's northwestern coast. This was the view from the car window.
Yes, as you might expect, our arrival was a rainy one, although the rain stopped and started, leaving a gloomy gray during its brief reprieves.
We parked and walked up to the massive island, which is reached (currently) by a causeway. It is largely surrounded by bleak waters -- and one wouldn't want to be caught on the wrong side of the island when the tide is in.
Some of the visitors were better prepared for the rain than I was!
Mont Saint-Michel served as a point for holding fortifications, but since the eighth century it has been the seat of the monastery and a pilgrimage destination.
Legend has it that the Archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches in the 700s and told him to build a church on the small island. It became a strategic point in wartime as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells of the 1066 Norman conquest of England. It is also considered a fine example of military architecture.
Over centuries Mont Saint-Michel has served as village, monastery and prison. Notably, Victor Hugo was one launched a campaign to restore the structure to national architectural treasure, resulting in the close of the prison in 1863 and eventually declaring it as a national historic monument.
The architecture is like that of no other monastery. Because the island mount is a pyramid, the medieval builders wound the buildings around the granite rock, with the abbey church at the top.
The original abbey church is clearly Romanesque in design and was built in the 11th century. Because of the weight of the structure, many underground chapels and crypts were built to support the structure.
In 1204 a fire damaged many of the buildings and when the abbey was rebuilit, it was in the "new" Gothic style. The refectory and cloister reflect this style.
The 15th century ramparts and fortifications were built to defend the site from the cannon -- a new weapon.
Now, 41 residents live on the island in apartments above shops, hotels and restaurants that one passes leading up to the abbey.
We walked (and walked) and walked, through pathways...
...and up the cobbled steps to what I call a terrace -- I'm sure it has another name.
And, by the time we got there, the sky was a mix of gray to the sea and blue above the spire.
You see? Sun! You can't get shadow without it!
The view was pretty amazing and quite formidable -- imagine being a soldier approaching it from the sea -- or anywhere, for that matter.
One can't help but admire the builders who hauled the stone and built this massive structure, but as churches go, it isn't exactly warm and inviting.The lighting and floor of this chapel was the sole exception.
I found it cold, damp (helped, no doubt, by the pouring rain) and not particularly pleasing -- more like well-designed rock masses with some pretty incredible architecture. I suspect a little sunshine coming through the windows (and about ten degrees of heat) would have helped warm things tremendously.
Obviously, others have a different point of view. It is, after all, a place of holiness, a place of faith. And I can imagine the pilgrims found it quite amazing -- I count in that number the modern-day pilgrims who come to visit simply because they are aware of its great structure and architecture.
The ossuary was interesting. The wheel was installed in 1820 to hoist provisions to the prisoners held in the abbey during its period as a prison. It is a replica of the pulleys used for hoisting building materials in the middle ages.
There was little art in entire abbey. Here is a lovely piece -- Adam and Eve.
My favorite area was the cloisters, a bright spot of green and color amidst much stone.
These were simply lovely, in the Gothic style, and offered many lovely and graceful lines...
...and some good spots for clowning around!
Because of the dampness, there was lots of moss...
...and a small potager or kitchen garden.
And occasionally, bright flowers seemed to grow from out of the rocks.
No matter where one looked, the view was quite spectacular.
Mont Saint-Michel was certainly not my favorite spot in our travels, and frankly, I was relieved to leave this cold, bleak place, with few spots that generated emotional warmth. As I mentioned, I suspect that had to do most with the weather and still being more than a bit jet-lagged. By the time we left it was close to 11 p.m., "Jeanie Time" and we still hadn't had dinner.
But I did leave with admiration for the architectural skill and history, though. It is a massive and fascinating structure and certainly one I'll never forget.
NOTE: Next we'll be going through Brittany. Remember, comments on this post and all of this series of recent vacation posts and the post about Gypsy will be entered in my 800th post drawing!
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