Have you ever heard of the fairytale of Rapunzel, locked away in her tower with nothing but her luscious locks for company? Well, we have some exciting news for you! The castle of your childhood dreams does indeed exist! No, it’s not a figment of our imagination, but a real, tangible place of wonder and beauty. And the best part? It can be found in the heart of France, at the stunning Mont-Saint-Michel.
The island commune, located in the northwestern coast of France, is home to the magnificent Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, which rises from the ocean like a beacon of architectural prowess. With its fairytale-like appearance, it’s easy to see how this gem of a destination has inspired countless tales and legends. So, pack your bags and join us on a journey to discover the real-life Rapunzel’s castle!
A Top Pilgrimage Site for Centuries
Mont St-Michel is an island-abbey located on the coast of Normandy, France. It has been a popular pilgrimage site for over a thousand years and continues to attract millions of tourists each year. The Bay of Mont St-Michel, with its unique tides, has played a key role in the history of this holy site. Hermit monks seeking solitude have lived here since the sixth century, and the bay provided a sort of “desert” for these early spiritual seekers.
Pilgrims would cross the mudflat at low tide, knowing that the sea swept in quickly, to reach the abbey on the rock. In the late 1800s, a road was built connecting the island to the mainland, making it easier for pilgrims to reach Mont St-Michel. The town, which now only has 50 residents, welcomes over 2 million visitors each year.
The Origins of Mont-Saint-Michel
The site of Mont-Saint-Michel was chosen by St. Aubert in 708. As the legend goes, the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert in a dream three times, instructing him to build a sanctuary. On the third attempt, the archangel, fearing that the bishop was not taking the message seriously enough, pierced the man’s skull with his finger. St. Aubert got to work and completed the sanctuary in 709. In 966, the Duke of Normandy gave the site to a group of Benedictine friars, who transformed the sanctuary into the magnificent abbey we see today.
Mont Saint-Michel: A Historical and Spiritual Haven
Despite its commercialized main street, it’s worth remembering that Mont St-Michel has been a retail hub since the Middle Ages. One of the island’s specialties is the fluffy omelets, which were popular among eat-and-run pilgrims and remain a hit with visitors today. To avoid the crowds, one can take a stroll along the ramparts to see the 15th-century fortifications, which were built to defend against the new weapon of the time – the cannon.
Mont St-Michel has a rich history, having been a holy place since the year 708. According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to a local bishop in a vision and convinced him to build an abbey on the island. The building project took many centuries to complete and was a marvel of medieval architecture. The abbey became a symbol of French national identity due to its stubborn defense against the English during the Norman Conquest.
As one climbs the stairs to the abbey, it’s easy to imagine the countless pilgrims and monks who have climbed the same steps for centuries. The centerpiece of the abbey is its church, which is mostly 11th-century Romanesque with round arches and small windows. However, the apse behind the altar is Gothic with pointed arches and larger windows, providing the sanctuary with more light. The abbey’s cloister, sitting atop the heavy construction, was a peaceful zone where monks would grow vegetables, meditate, and read the Bible.
The Ghost Story of Louis d’Estouteville
In 1434, a garrison of troops led by Louis d’Estouteville were stationed at Mont-Saint-Michel during the Hundred Years War. One day, a massive English army approached the abbey, confident in their ability to destroy the garrison inside. When the battle was over, it was said that the blood of 2,000 Englishmen flowed on the ground around Mont-Saint-Michel, making it run red. Commander d’Estouteville emerged victorious. Despite this great victory, it might come as a surprise that the ghost of Louis d’Estouteville still haunts the abbey to this day. It’s said that his spirit is doomed to walk the halls of Mont-Saint-Michel for eternity, perhaps being trapped there forever as a result of his role in such a bloody day.
Must-See Attractions and Experiences on the Island:
🏯 Mont-Saint-Michel is a destination that is full of must-see attractions and experiences. Some of the highlights of the island include:
🏯 The Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey: This stunning abbey is the centerpiece of the island and is a must-visit for anyone interested in medieval architecture and history.
🏯 The Chapel of St. Anne: This beautiful chapel is located on the island and is known for its stunning stained glass windows and intricate carvings.
🏯 The Grand Degré: This is the main street of the island and is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes.
🏯 The Ramparts: The ramparts offer breathtaking views of the surrounding bay and are a must-visit for anyone looking for a scenic vantage point.
Today, Mont St-Michel continues to inspire travelers with its rich history and spiritual heritage. It straddles the historic border between Normandy and Brittany and remains just barely, but thoroughly, part of Normandy. The abbey offers a glimpse into the lives of the hermit monks and pilgrims who sought solace on this remote island, and the Bay of Mont St-Michel continues to provide a sort of “desert” for those seeking a closer connection to God.