|département: 50, Manche|
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island sitated about 1 km off the Normandy coast at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. The island covers an area of 7 hectares and has a permanent population of about 30. It is part of the mainland municipality of Mont-Saint-Michel.
Mont Saint-Michel abbey is the centre of the structural composition of the settlemtnt that was founded on the island:
on top, God, the Abbey and monastery, below this, the Great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom (outside the walls) fishermen's and
farmers' houses. The first text about an abbey is the 9th-century Latin text Revelatio ecclesiae sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba written by
a chanoine living at Mont Saint Michel or at the cathedral of Saint Andrew of Avranches. When Christianity expanded to the area, around the
4th century, Mont Tombe — the original name of Mont Saint Michel — was part of the diocese of Avranches.
By the middle of the 6th century Mont Tombe was populated by hermits, probably Celtic monks. An oratory dedicated to the Archangel Michael was
erected in 708 by bishop Saint Aubert of Avranches. In 710 the island was renamed Mont Saint-Michel. The remains of the oratory were found in
the chapel Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre. This sanctuary contained the tomb of Aubert and today is under the nave of the abbey church. The rapid growth of wealth
of the church-abbey Saint-Michel became an obstacle to its function and nature. In order to re-establish religious life, Benedictine monks were
installed here in 966, which is marked as the founding year of Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. These monks added the double-nave, pre-Romanesque church
Notre-Dame-sous-Terre. The new, Romanesque church above was built after 1060. Mont Saint-Michel was at its apex
during the 1100s when the abbots reinforced the structure of the buildings and created the main façade of the church. A new, Gothic-style
construction was started in the early 13th century. The "Merveille", built in medieval Norman style, was completed in 1228. Even as some
'oubliettes' have been mentioned since the 11th century, the abbey started to be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancien Régime,
becoming a state jail in the 15th century. Mont Saint Michel's popularity and prestige as a center of pilgrimage waned with the Reformation, and
by the time of the French Revolution there were scarcely any monks in residence. The abbey was closed in 1791 and converted into a prison, initially to
hold clerical opponents of the republican regime (up to 300 priests at one point). The abbey was then nicknamed "bastille des mers" (Bastille of the sea).
In 1794, an optical telegraph system was installed on top of the dome, making the Mont-Saint-Michel part of the Paris–Brest
telegraph line. In 1817, the numerous modifications of the structure by the prison administration led to the collapse of the hostelry. After a campaign
launched by some intellectual figures such as Victor Hugo to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure, the prison was closed in 1863.
The abbey was declared a historic monument in 1874. During the restoration works that had already started before, the neo-Gothic spire was added in 1896.
The old church of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre was discovered during excavation works in 1898 and was completely excavated in 1959. During the German occupation
that started in 1940, a cable car facility was installed but the abbey was otherwise kept intact. Mont Saint Michel as a whole and its bay were added to
the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 (see list of other UNESCO heritage sites depicted on glasses of this collection).