History of Mont Saint Michel
The history of Mont Saint Michel spans many centuries with the island being used as a stronghold as far back as the 6th and 7th centuries until it was finally ransacked by the Franks. Once known as Mont Tombe, legend has it that in 708AD Saint Aubert who was the bishop of nearby Avranches saw a vision of the Archangel Michael who told him to build a church on the island.
Unfortunately at first Saint Aubert to his peril failed to do so and it is said that the archangel Michael persuaded him by burning a hole in Saint Aubert’s skull with his finger and so it was that on 16th October 709 Saint Aubert built and consecrated a small chapel which was in turn dedicated to Saint Michael.
Over the coming centuries Mont Saint Michel become evermore important as the region came under the power of Normandy from the Dukes of Brittany. In around 966 a group of benedictine monks settled on the island and began building a Romanesque styled church. The legend and the presence of the monks ensured that Mont Saint Michel became a pilgrimage site from this date onwards.
Mont Saint Michel was important as both a religious place and also within the region as a whole. Its importance was such that it is even clearly depicted within the Bayeux tapestry, following the invasion of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.
With its importance growing, the monastery gave its open support to William for his claim to the throne of England and in gratitude for this he gave them land in England including an island near Penzance which resembled Mont Saint Michel which later became Saint Michaels Mount.
Construction of the Romanesque styled abbey began in the 11th century with further amendments and additions being completed in the following centuries. The Hundred Years War made it necessary in the 14th century for the abbey to protect itself and so walls and defences were constructed, which enabled it to hold out against several sieges by the English.
Up to and during the French Revolution the abbey became less popular and eventually uninhabited and so it was closed and used as a prison right up until 1864. Shortly after this time the island was classified as an historical monument and subsequently renovations on the buildings began.
Finally in 1979 Mont Saint Michel was classified by UNESCO as one of their World Heritage Sites and is now one of the most visited monuments in France.