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Take a FREE Guided Tour of the Abbey - Not to Miss
If you arrive by bus in the morning, make sure to get to the entrace of the abbey by 11:00 for 1 of 2 Guided Tours in English, the other is at 3:00. The tour is free with your entrance fee (8.50 Euro). The other option is an audio guide. Without one of these 2 things you are basically looking at big empty rooms saying, "Wow this is neat". The signs on the wall which explain the purpose of each room are in french. The English tour lasts about 1 hour and we enjoyed sticking with the group and listening to the explaination and then coming back for a 2nd pass to take our pictures and maybe take a few without tons of people standing in them. There is another tour that is in French which I was told was longer than the english and allowed you to see some rooms that were not open for the regular tour. If your French is halfway good and you want to see a little more, give it a try. Your entrance fee is good for 15 days, so you can come and go as you please throughout the day and if you happen to stay the night and miss the bus as we did (see dangers/ warnings) then you can use your ticket to enjoy a 2nd day of viewing.
The story of the stories in the abbey
Through the ages, the legend of Le Mont Saint Michel spread over Europe and more and more pilgrims were attracted to it's doors. This ment business and fundings to expand the abbey roled in. On a small island it was of course impossible to expand around, therefore the abbey already soon was expanded upwards, becoming one of the first buildings with four to five stories on top of which a (church)tower crowned the complete abbey. The stories also became a mirror to society in those days. Then there were three classes, the clerces (religious class, such as priests, monchs, bishops, pastores etc.), nobility (including royalty) and the common people. These three classes also were in status at that order and the stories in the abbey simulated that closely. The upper floor, with it's courtyard, the abbey church, the rooms of prayer and diningroom of the momchs, was the closest to heaven. Under that floor came the royal hall, where nobility was welcomed and audiences were given by the king, duke, count or earls of that time. The lowest floors were the places where the common people (among which of course the mayority of the pilgrims), were welcomed to get their blessings and in better days even something to eat and drink, as well as a place to sleep.
There Are Other Middle Level Abbey Rooms to See
The support of the church required a substructure which was designed into the many areas required by such a religious complex. The chambers surround the central rock core on the three sides not occupied by the Merveille. The oldest are on the west side: below the mid-level is the Aquilon (where the early pilgrims were greeted) and above that on the mid-level is the Promenoir (which may have been the first cloister or a dormitory for the Monks). These are early 12C and are rare examples of what is called a Transitional Style moving from Romanesque to Gothic. Moreover, they are secular examples! Note the heavy columns, the sculpted capitals, the heavy ribbing and the groin vaulting. On the South side is St. Martin's Crypt (under the South Transept) and further East the Crypt of the Great Pillars ( a 1446 replacement support for the collapsed original apse above, probably reuising remnants of the old crypt). Nearby the hoist wheel is not as old as other things. It is a used 19C copy of a medieval original that still employed human walking power (last active by utilizing 19C prisoners).
- Family Travel
Visit the Church
We have walked up from the car park (see our two travelogs on this) and it is time to enter the church. The facade gives no indication of what is inside.The facade was erected in the 18C after the original facade and the last two bays of the nave had collapsed (see about this in a General Tip). The facade is severe, more or less classical, hinting at the Romanesque interior. The most interesting aspect is that it is so weather-beaten. The nave is shortened to 4 bays due to the deletion mentioned above. The chancel (altar and apse) is late Flamboyant Gothic, because it was replaced when the Abbey was flush with money by the Abbot at that time (part of the collapse story) who hired the architect of St. Ouen in Rouen to sort of repeat his work there. Remarkably the two styles blend beautifully in this instance. The Romanesque sides of the nave show clearly the blind triforium and clerestory windows of the mature style that the Normans and Cluniacs had developed and which gave birth to the Gothic. Note the massive piers at the crossing. These are the genesis of the entire monastery!. The inital Abbot demanded that the highest spot on the Mont be the level of the church. This required immense support for the planned central tower and led to the whole elaborate build-up of the Abbey. When we first entered (at noon) dailyMass was beginning.
- Family Travel
The Abbey is the main tourist attraction in the area. It is a stunning set of buildings perched on top of a rocky promontory. It includes a church with tall-spires and a statue of the archangel Michael situated on its top and some wonderful Gothic buildings known since the early 13th century, as the Merveille, (The Marvel). The Abbey with it’s Cloister’s , Refectory, Knights' Hall and cellars can be seen from all around the bay, and is an awe inspiring sight from any angle or distance. The abbey's history and development can be seen from scale models situated in the reception area.
From the entrance of Mont Saint Michel another flight of steps leads up through the Salle des Gardes or Belle Chaise (13th C.) into the 13th C. north wing of the abbey, known as the Merveille (Marvel). On the lowest floor is the Aumônerie, a large columned hall which in the 13th century was a dormitory for poor pilgrims, now the starting point of the conducted tours, with a small exhibition hall. The conducted tour takes visitors through the Cellier (a cellar or storeroom) and up to the first floor, on which are the Salle des Hôtes, a reception room for distinguished guests situated over the AumoPnerie, and the imposing Gothic Salle des Chevaliers (Knights' Hall, 1215-1220), later the working room of the Benedictine monks. Here too, below the choir of the church, is the Crypte des Gros Piliers (15th century), with 10 piers 5m/16ft in circumference. In another crypt is the pre-Romanesque church of Notre-Dame- sous-Terre, a 10th century predecessor of the present church. On the second floor are the Refectory, later used as a dormitory (over the Salle des Hôtes), and the cloister built in 1225-1228 (over the Knights' Hall), with 220 graceful granite columns in double alternating rows.
On the south side of the cloister is the abbey church, begun in 1020, its Romanesque nave forming a charming contrast to the 15th century Gothic choir.
- Castles and Palaces
Tour of the abbey
A tour of the abbey is a must. We took a tour with a real (human) guide and found that it was a little difficult to hear her at times because of the many tours going on at the same time. On looking back, an audio tour would have been better.
- Historical Travel
The Abbey seems a mirage after climbing the hill of Saint Michel. When you are on the top you can have a great vieuw of the area, and it worths almost a visit!
The Abbey is a gothic Monastery built up in XIth centuries. The hill where the Abbey stands was dedicated to the Arcangel of Saint Michel in 708. Tourist can visit it almost the whole year, but I recommend to go there especially in springtime or summer (may and june are the best months to me). It is open until 7 p.m. in summer and it is closed after 5 p.m. in winter.
Visit the Mont Saint Michel Tourist office site below:
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
The abbey on the top
If you don't order a guided tour, you run the risk to miss a lot of details.
They abbey of St Michel is a pearl among the abbeys, and especially the well conserved wheel to lift weights is an attraction.
- Historical Travel
The Abbey, of course
Entrance costs 7 Euros when I was there, but it was probably the most worthwhile 7 Euros I spent on this trip. Don't be fooled by appearance. You'll get to go through, up, down, and under the abbey, see some amazing interior and learn quite a bit as well. The view from the top is unparalleled.
The Abbey and its church occupy an impregnable position on the island. At the top of the spire sits a golden statue of St. Michel with a set of scales representing judgment day, and a drawn sword to fend off damnation.
In 1017, Richard II ordered construction of a Romanesque church on this site, it took 60 years to complete (and we complain about constuction time?) however, Abbot Hildebert II ordered the 250-foot summit be demolished to build another church. It was finally completed in 1520 in the now Gothic and Romanesque style.The people of Mont St Michele were given charge of the abbey in 1622 until the French Revolution (1785-95) when it was turned into a prison.
It was severely burnt in 1856, but thorough restorations were not undertaken until 1874. With the celebration of the monastic?s 1000th anniversary, a religious community moved back to what used to be the abbatial dwellings.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
The abbey itself
The abbey is the pinnacle of the Mount, built in a gothic benedictine style, it was dedicated to the archangel St Michael. Unfortunately I didn't get to go inside. It is surrounded by a maze of stone arches
Interior of the abbey
The main nave is impressively high, you feel like in a big cathedral in a city on the ground. But remember this was build on top of a rock that is almost not connected to the mainland.
Visit the abbey
The audio visit or the "reading leaflet" visit are quite interesting. The queues can be exhausting, but it's worth it anyway.
On the pic, the façade of the curch.
This picture is taken by the upper level of the abbey close to the refectorium. You can easily see the tides arriving slowly during the day and the still dry sands.
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