Mont Saint Michel, one of France's most recognizable landmarks, is a stunning vision upon a hill and is home to a Benedictine abbey and a feudal village in France’s northern region of Normandy. More than 3 million visitors trek across the shallow bay to reach the small island in order to walk through the old chambers of the abbey and adjoining church, and to wander through time to see the Medieval French village. This religious site, originally called Mont-Tombe, has a modest origin as it was originally founded by an Irish hermit who gathered a local following. Thereafter, the site became known as Mont Saint Michel in the 8th century when the Bishop of Avranches had a vision of Saint Michael and built an oratory on the hilltop. The church that towers over the island has an imposing 11th- and 12th-century Romanesque nave - the central and principal part of a Christian church - and can be seen from across the bay. A statue of Saint Michael stands at the top of the abbey’s spire and tower, both of which were added in the 19th century.
Mont Saint Michel is featured on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites and it is easy to see why. The panoramic views from the mountain top are impressive and the view of the abbey itself is breathtaking. This is perhaps why this site has been immortalized in French music and literature. For example, Claude Debussy gained inspiration for his piano prelude La Cathedrale Engloutie via his frequent visits to the island, and Guy Maupassant incorporated a pivotal scene at Mont Saint Michel in his short story, “Le Horla”.
About Mont Saint Michel, Guy de Maupassant specifically wrote:
I had first seen it from Cancale, this fairy castle in the sea. I got an indistinct impression of it as a gray shadow outlined against the misty sky. I saw it again from Avranches at sunset. The immense stretch of sane was red, the horizon was red, the whole boundless bay was red. The rocky castle rising out there in the distance like a weird, seignorial residence, like a dream palace, strange and beautiful- this alone remained black in the crimson light of the dying day.
Mont Saint Michel’s contribution to both the French landscape and the French culture is immeasurable and, perhaps, it is best to visit the mystical abbey for oneself to truly comprehend its majesty and allure. Look into our 2020 tour, France and English: Standing Stones to Medieval Monument, to experience this castle in the sea for yourself: