One of the most alluring sights in France is the magical island of Mont-Saint-Michel and its breathtakingly beautiful bay. This island has remained a place of pilgrimage in Europe for centuries and is now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located in a picturesque bay, just 600 meters (2,000 feet) out at sea, where Normandy and Brittany merge, the island presents a charming sight…abbey, monastic buildings and all. The abbey sitting on the island hilltop catches the eye from a long distance, inspiring awe.
But, how did this Christian pilgrimage site come up on the mount? The story goes back to the 8th Century, when Aubert, a bishop of Avranches, a nearby hilltop town, claimed to have been ordered by Archangel Michael himself to build a church atop the island.
Subsequent dukes and kings took the bishop’s revelation seriously and from 966 CE onwards, work started on a Benedictine abbey on the Mont-Saint-Michel under their guidance. The abbey building displaying Romanesque architecture was the work of an Italian architect, William of Volpiano.Other stately monastic buildings were also constructed along with the abbey during the medieval times. One such vertiginous section is so magnificent as to be nicknamed ‘The Marvel’.
The abbey was not just an eye-candy but became a renowned center for learning. It attracted some of the best minds and manuscript illuminators of Europe. Soon, it became a regular place of pilgrimage and pilgrims started visiting it in great numbers, even unmindful of the warring cross-Channel royals. The architect of the abbey had the invading English in mind when he got the ramparts constructed at the base of the island to keep them out.
Today, the abbey has become a great tourist attraction and remains a place of pilgrimage. It receives huge numbers of visitors all-round the year. Some of the medieval buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and museums.