Josette and Jean-François took us to Mont St-Michel before taking us to La Haye-du-Puits in Normandy. Ever since we were children, we have wanted to visit this. Dennis first became aware of Mont-Saint-Michel from a View-Master slide and I from a monthly grammar school magazine.
Mont St-Michel is an island between Brittany and Normandy. The island is small, only about 247 acres and has a population of 44, mostly religious.
Over the years, the sand had filled in the distance between the island and the mainland and people were able to drive on the mud flats to the base of a the mount. Excavations are in progress to restore the ocean and to build an access road for walkers and shuttles from the parking lot.
Shifting sands, intense fog, and the ocean were natural fortresses for the monks who originally lived here. Even now, you need a guide to walk on the sand during low tide.
After the revolution, Mont St-Michel was turned into a jail until 1863 when it was returned to the abbey. The abbey was again returned to Christian worship in 1922. It is now a World Heritage Site. It is also a pilgrimage site and one of the stops along one of the Caminos de Santiago.
As we passed restaurant Le Mere Poulard on the main drag, we heard a fun rhythmic beat created by cooks dressed in traditional garb as they whipped the egg whites for the famous omelets. They then fold in the egg yolks and cook the mixture over an open hearth using long-handled pans. The omelets puff up like a soufflé and are served slightly runny. Of course, we all tried one for lunch. I could not believe that this omelet was made with only two eggs–it was that filling.
The abbey is in restoration. Recently, the statue of Saint-Michel, the archangel, which decorates the top of the abbey, was removed for gilding. After flying around the region, a helicopter repositioned to its place atop the abbey.
We explored the abbeys many rooms and floors, but our friends tell us that prior to the restoration, more was available for viewing.
From the windows, you can see the bay stretching from Normandy to Brittany with the river marking the border between the two provinces. Josette explains that Brittany and Normandy would both like to claim Mont St-Michel.When the river passed Mont St-Michel on the other side, the abbey was part of Brittany. Today, the river’s route has changed and the abbey is on Normand soil.
It is said, the higher up you go in the abbey, the closer you are to God. The monks cloister and refectory are at the top. Below them are the guests halls designed for kings and royalty. Below this is the knight’s hall. Finally on the first floor, is the hall where the monks received the poor and the pilgrims.
An intriguing huge wheel installed in 1830 is a replica of one used during the middle ages. Like hamsters, six men, usually prisoners, would power a winch to haul a giant sledge loaded with two-ton loads of stones and supplies from the landing below almost vertically up the wall. This was used until the 19th century.
Off to one side is a cloister, a rectangular open space surrounded by an open gallery with arcades. There are signs not to touch the marble columns, which look delicate. The columns, arranged in quincunx, a geometry pattern resembling the pips on the number five side of a dice. The columns were originally made of limestone from England but were later restored using puddingstone from Lucerne. This is a rock conglomerate of rounded pebbles that sharply contrast in color with the sandy medium and giving the appearance of raisins in Christmas pudding.
The purpose of the cloister is to provide a place for the monks to meditate without disturbance by those who were not religious. In the middle is a medieval garden recreated in 1966 by brother Bruno de Senneville, a Benedict monk. The center is made of box tree surrounded by 13 Damascus roses. Medicinal plants, aromatic herbs and flowers symbolize the daily needs of Middle-age monks. In the middle of the box trees were monsters to remind that in the middle of any marvel evil could still be there
I would have like to have seen the abbey after dark when the island is magically floodlit. But Josette and Jean-François drove us to La Haye-en-Puits, and then returned to their home in Brittany. Dennis and I are both so thankful for the hospitality and for making us feel like part of the family. It was sad for us to say goodbye.