When I was much younger, let’s say twelve or so, on a family trip to Walt Disney World, I watched the film Impressions de France in the France Pavilion in Epcot (then called EPCOT Center). All of that was new at the time and I hadn’t really seen any films about foreign countries. I wasn’t much of a watcher of stuff back then. That is, unless it was cartoons or football. But, this film was amazing. It started a love of foreign adventure that I never realized until I was in my forties.
One of the things that I saw in the film was an island that looked like it had a castle on it. I didn’t know what it was but it was magical. At least it looked that way. I was mesmerized by it. I told myself: I will get there someday. Oh yes! I will get there someday. We went back to WDW for Christmas in 1989 and at 19 saw it again. This is way before Google or Wikipedia. I still didn’t know what it was and I truly didn’t think to ask one of the young French cast members about it. Again in 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. It should be obvious that I like going to WDW. Anywhat!
I was watching one of the travel shows (such as Rick Steves, Rudy Maxa, etc.) and it was showing monasteries around Europe. I saw this remarkable and longed for island fortress and it had the name on the screen. I had truly forgotten about it until I saw it here sometime in 2012 (probably recouping from heart surgery) and a rush of excitement slapped me in the face. I knew what it was! I knew its name! Its name: Mont Saint-Michel (St. Michael’s Mount). I reiterated to myself: I will get there someday. Oh yes! I will get there someday.
Fast forward to 2013 when a FAM (that’s a familiarization trip) to Europe came my way this included finishing in Paris. I was able to add a few extra days there and was able to take The BCPF, as well. Whilst scheduling what was going to happen, I inquired about Mont Saint-Michel and there was a day excursion to the attraction. I jumped on it. It was a fourteen hour round-trip day excursion, too. We were on a bus for four hours both ways and then spent time at the visitors center a few miles away from the island where we had a fancy omelet and other local delicacies. We then jumped on a shuttle and went to the island.
I stood at the base of the island and, I’m not afraid to say, cried. I had waited just about all my life to see this; something I swore I’d see and visit. It was a long and not-so-easy trek up the stairs to the top. We had a tour guide that spoke to us in French, Italian, Spanish and English through a transmitter/receiver system (she seemed to never skip a beat in switching between the languages).
Mont Saint-Michel, a wonder of Gothic architecture, was first built upon in the 8th Century AD and is located in the Normandy region of northern France, at the mouth of the Couesnon River. The structure as it stands now started in the 10th century and was completed in the 16th century. It’s almost 250 acres and boasts a population of around 44 residents in addition to the 11 practicing monks that are permanent occupants of the monastery (those are number accurate to the time of our visit in 2013). There are hotels, shops, restaurants and museums on this magnificent mountain. At the top of the monastery is a beautiful cloister with a medieval garden that looks out over the water as well as other parts of the structure and is where the monks actually meditate.
There’s landings and platforms that allow for glorious views of the bay. At the very top, there’s a spire with a statue of St. Michael at the peak. It also still operates as an active church. There are crypts and choirs, tunnels and chambers. Architecture here is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. And, I mean ever.
One of the most unique aspects of this “island” is that when it’s low tide, you can walk on the sea bed. This was an important facet over the millennial history of the edifice. Pilgrims would cross via foot at low tide from the mainland. If they waited too long, they’d be stranded on either side of the bay until the next low tide or until they hired a boat. At the same time, it helped in the fortification of the compound. It would create a difficult target because ships would have to wait until high tide, giving the inhabitants of the island time to prepare. Or, if at low tide, the opposition could trek across the seabed but would have to be quick or get stuck on the island and at the mercy of its people. It wasn’t always a church/monastery, it also served as a prison (because of its fortification and the reverse) and it withstood two English sieges due to the reinforcement.
When we were there, the causeway was being removed in favor of a bridge that would allow the mount to return to an island. That didn’t take away from the glory that is Mont Saint-Michel. I hope to return another day to see this again. How about you, Dear Reader? Have you been there? Do you want to go see it; experience it? I can certainly send you there. I can assure you that you’ve never seen anything like it. Contact me to ask me how you can get there. I’ll help you. All of France is definitely worth being in. But, this, even to a non-spiritual person, was very spiritual.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“An ageless symbol of France, Mont Saint-Michel. Proud, full of grace and symmetry. Rooted firmly to the ground, yet dedicated to the spirit.” – Impressions de France, Epcot, Walt Disney World