2022 – France – Day 9

Friday September 2nd

We stayed at Mont Saint-Michel. I didn’t even know you could stay on the island. There was lightning all night long, but no thunder. Apparently French lightning is very polite. From what we could see the lightning was going from cloud-to-cloud, rather than from cloud-to-land. Maybe that’s what accounts for the difference.

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then I went on a tour while Jackie went shopping. To get to the cathedral you have to climb over 360 steps from the main entrance at the base of the rock.

The first chapel at Mont Saint-Michel was built sometime in the early 8th century, but the present cathedral atop the rock was finished in the 14th century during the high Gothic. The cathedral is half Romanesque and half Gothic.

The cathedral is accompanied by an abbey for Benedictine monks. There are also nuns who live on the rock, though I don’t know of what order. Benedictines have lived in the abbey for hundreds of years.

But in addition to the abbey there is a city at the base of the rock. Several of the buildings of the present day city date to the 13th century.

Not only does Mont Saint-Michel have a cathedral that has drawn Christian pilgrims from around the world, and not only does it have both an abbey and a city, but Saint-Michel is also a fortress that is surrounded by a stone wall, complete with ramparts and murder holes. To get into the city you must pass through 3 gates in succession. The last gate is a drawbridge with a portcullis that dates to the 13th century.

During the Hundred Years War, the English tried several times to capture Mont Saint-Michel. There is an island about 3 miles away that the English did take and hold. They launched an assault on Mont Saint-Michel by marching their troops and cannons from the island to the gates of Saint-Michel. But then the tide came in. So the English abandoned their cannons and retreated to the island, and the defenders snagged the cannons and brought them inside the city walls. The city kept the captured cannons on display just inside the first city gate in a spot known as “Cannon Square.” We didn’t see the cannons because the are currently being restored. The English were never able to take either the city or the abbey.

Sunrise viewed from our room:

The main street early in the morning– there are very few residents on Mont Saint-Michel, and there are only a small number of hotel rooms:

Breakfast that morning:

The spire of the cathedral at Mont Saint-Michel:

The narrowest “street” on Mont Saint-Michel– supposedly it was a favorite location for lovers’ trysts:

Ascending stairs on the way to the cathedral:

Yet another flight of stairs– this one with a skyway above:

View of the road leading into Mont Saint-Michel from the plaza just outside the cathedral:

The interior of the cathedral– and yes, it was being renovated:

A courtyard that was only open to the monks who resided at the Abbey:

The colonnade that encircles the courtyard. It has recently been refurbished and the entire ceiling is new:

Another hall that was only open to monks:

The abbey and cathedral as seen from the city’s outer wall:

We left Mont Saint-Michel at about 11:30, stopped at a small town for lunch, then went to the town of Bayeaux, where we saw the Bayeaux Tapestry. It was very different from what I had imagined. First, it’s rather narrow– only about 2 feet wide. Second, it’s essentially an 11th century cartoon. There are numbers along the top that correspond to different scenes depicted in the tapestry– rather like the pages of a comic book. It is a cartoon narrative written in the 11th century for a time when most people could not read. But it does do a good job of telling the story of the battle of Hastings.

We had a couple of hours to mess around in Bayeaux. Here’s a photo of the Bayeaux cathedral:

You’re not allowed to take photos of the Bayeaux tapestry– and besides, you need to hold the recorder close to your ear or you’ll miss everything they’re saying.

We left Bayeaux and headed to Arromanches, on the Normandy coast. Here’s a photo of the English channel from our window. The barge-like looking objects on the horizon are part of the massive artificial harbor that was constructed on D-Day + 1 (July 7, 1944). The Allies sank massive cement pontoons along a 5 mile arc about a half mile out to sea. After the initial landing on D-Day, the troop transports that docked here brought in more than 3,000,000 troops over the course of the next several months. The beaches of Arromanches were nicknamed Gold Beach for the purposes of D-Day.

A photo of Jackie looking out from our hotel window– top floor on the far left: