Built by an Angel

Surrounded by the sea, France's Mont Saint-Michel still harbors angels!

Posted in , Sep 24, 2014

The view from Mont Saint-Michel

Today's guest blogger is Meg Belviso. She recently took a spiritual tour of France. Here's a second installment about her travels.

On my second day with #SpiritualFrance, I visited a site that felt like something out of a fantasy story–Mont Saint-Michel.

Its construction began in the early 8th century under the Bishop of Avranches, St Aubert. In the many years since, several incredible buildings have been added to the site: a Romanesque abbey church in the 11th century, a Romanesque monastery in the 12th century, and a Gothic chapel in the 15th.

The spire at the top of the abbey, topped with a golden figure of the archangel Michael, seems to float between the sea and the sky. A person looking at the Mont at the end of the 7th century, before construction began, would have seen a sheer-sided rock rising 250 feet above the sea.

That rock was solid granite, a substance hard enough to hold up against centuries of erosion.

The view from Mont Saint-MichelThe Mont is surrounded by a sea on one side with strong tides and on the other, three rivers–the Sée, the Sélune and the Couesnon–flowing out from the surrounding strands.

When pilgrims started to make their way to the Mont–almost immediately after construction began–the sea made the journey very dangerous. Tides rose so quickly around the Mont that travelers were often drowned on the way.

Plus, the water traveling under the ground created pockets of quicksand. Would-be visitors were advised to always make out a will before traveling to the site.

Why would they risk their lives to make the trip? Because legend had it that the Archangel himself had ordered the site to be built. Looking out from the top of the abbey that crowns the site are rewarded with an angel’s-eye-view of the surrounding landscape.

Over the years, the site has changed. Much of the land that was once covered by the sea is now covered in grass where sheep graze.

In fact, scientific investigation showed that changes in the landscape, especially due to a causeway built to make it easier to get to the Mont, would soon leave the Mont completely separated from the sea. Now France is hard at work restoring the land to preserve that original character.

Although Mont Saint-Michel gets about 3 million tourist visits a year, it’s still a practicing monastery. Visitors like me who make the climb up to the abbey are welcome to attend services like the one I attended for Vespers.

The service was entirely sung by the monks and nuns–and I think I heard some angels joining in as well.

You can read the first installment of my #Spiritual Fance trip. To find out more about these trips, check out Atout France

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