5 interesting facts about Mont St. Michel
1. A sanctuary that predated the foundation of Normandy
The first sanctuary dates from 708/709 — check out the post on 10 key moments in the history of Mont St. Michel for more information. At the time, Mont Saint Michel was considered to be part of Armorica, the northwestern section of Gaul comprised between the rivers Seine and Loire. When its western part subsequently evolved into Brittany, Mont Saint Michel ended up under Breton control. The treaty of Compiègne of 867 sealed the agreement between King Charles the Bald and King Salomon of Brittany by which the Cotentin Peninsula and Mont St. Michel were ceded to the Bretons. Normandy came into being only another half a century later when a long series of Viking raids, initiated during the rule of Charles the Great, lead to the treaty of Saint Clair sur Epte and the foundation of the county in 911.
2. Mont Saint Michel, an impregnable place
Mont Saint Michel #montsaintmichel has been a place of refuge since the earliest times. Unfortunately, the archeological evidence concerning the period anterior to the VIII century is quite scarce. We do know however that after the seizing of the Cotentin Peninsula by the Normans in 933, Mont Saint Michel gained strategic importance and a target implicitly. The mount was besieged by two of the sons of William the Conqueror in 1091, by Guy de Thouars, regent of Brittany, in 1204, and by the English during the Hundred Years War, with their most notable attack in 1425. Even the Huguenots attempted to seize control of the Abbey during the wars of religion. All of them failed thanks to the valiant efforts of the defenders but, more importantly, because no assailant could overcome one insurmountable obstacle: the tide.
You could learn more about the history of the Abbey by joining us on a trip to Mont Saint Michel. #montsaintmicheltours #guidedtoursofmontsaintmichel #normandyguide #discovernormandy.
3. A witness to the highest tides in Europe
The tidal range in the bay of Mont Saint Michel can be as high as 15 meters (49 feet) which ranks it as the highest in Europe. During spring tides, which occur twice a month when the sun, moon, and Earth are aligned the sea withdraws 15 kilometers (over 9 miles) from the coast and its level rises very quickly. The famous French writer, Victor Hugo, used to say that the sea comes in as fast as a galloping horse. He too must have been mesmerized by the tidal bore phenomenon, a wave that can reach several dozen centimeters in fast-flowing water and which forms during rising tide.
4. The XIX century Alcatraz of Normandy
Although the mount is known to have been home to one of the infamous 'iron cages' of Louis XI during the XV century as well as a royal prison under Louis XIV, none of these periods matched the brutal conditions of the revolutionary, and shortly afterwards, the imperial prison. For over seven decades, from 1792 until 1863, Mont Saint Michel was a place of incarceration for thousands of people who dubbed it 'the Bastille of the seas'; it was without doubt the darkest period in the history of the sanctuary despite the fact that nowadays some historians consider the prison is what saved the monument from complete dismantling after 1789.
5. Mont Saint Michel has a Cornish twin
Mont Saint Michel has a namesake on the other side of the English Channel. St. Michael's Mount is a tidal island and a historic castle located off the coast of Cornwall, England. The name is not a coincidence. Saint Michael's Mount was a priory of Mont Saint Michel from the XI to XV centuries. The bond between the two places was severed by Henry V, during the Hundred Years' War. Smaller than its Norman twin, St. Michael's Mount can be accessed at low tide via a granite causeway. This is similar to the way in which pilgrims reached Mont Saint Michel for almost a millennium until the construction of the dyke/road late XIX century.
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