Less than a mile off the coast of Normandy and set atop a rocky islet is the famous abbey of Mont Saint Michel. With almost 3 million yearly visitors, it is undoubtedly counted as one of France’s most famous landmarks. The abbey, along with its surrounding bay, has been declared by UNESCO as member of the World’s heritage sites.
Essential Facts about Mont Saint Michel
In the 8th century, the islet was called Mont Tombe. After the church was constructed and the popularity of the legends surrounding the island rose, it has then been the site of numerous pilgrimages from all across Europe. Due to the influx of pilgrims, a monastic complex built after the Romanesque architectural tradition was built on the island. The surrounding village grew around the abbey as time went by. The abbey was finished in 1228, and its existence is the reason why the island was declared as the “la Merveille de l’Occident” or the Wonder of the West. Since then, the island and its abbey withstood religious wars, foreign invasions, and natural disasters.
Archangel Michael and the Bishop of Avranches
Mont Sant Michel is central to many known myths, legends, and fairy-tales in the area. The most famous of which is the legend of its beginning and construction. The story stars Saint Michael, the archangel known as the leader of God’s armies against Satan, and St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches at the time. The legend recounts how Saint Michael appeared to the bishop in a dream and ordered him to build a church atop the island that would be named after St. Michael. The bishop doubted and ignored the dream. He also thought of the troublesome work that would have to be done in building a church in an overgrown and rocky terrain found on an isolated mountaintop by the sea.St. Michael was persistent, and in order to finally convince the bishop, the archangel touched the bishop’s head. According to the story, St. Aubert woke up to find a burned hole on his head and started the construction of the church immediately. It was completed on the island in 709 and named after the Archangel Michael.
The Legend of Saint Michael and the Dragon
Aside from the origin of the church’s beginnings, another legend connects St. Michael to the island: the legend of St. Michael and his defeat of the dragon, the symbol for the devil. Some believers claim that Mont Saint Michel is the site where this great battle and victory was achieved. This legendary battle was written down by St. John in the Book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Bible.
The Biblical story and legend became more popular and extensive after the efforts of French writer, Guy de Maupassant who wrote the short story, The Legend of Mont Saint Michel. The story highlights the immense size and beauty of the monastery of Mont Saint Michel as it features the legendary battle between Saint Michael and the Devil, but with added creative twists and adventurous elements by the writer.