Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay





Date of Inscription: 1979 Criteria: C (i) (iii) (vi)




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      Brief Description

Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany stand the 'Wonder of the West', a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems posed by this unique natural site.



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Tidal island

It is connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which before modernization was covered at high tide, and revealed at low tide. Thus, Mont Saint Michel gained a mystical quality, being an island half the time, and being attached to land the other : a tidal island.

However the insular character of the mount has been compromised by several developments. Over the centuries, the coastal flats have been polderised to create pasture. The coast south of the mount has thus encroached on the distance between the shore and the mount. The Couesnon River has been canalised, reducing the flow of water and thereby encouraging a silting-up of the bay. In 1879, the land bridge was fortified into a true causeway. This prevented the tide from scouring the silt round the mount. Now there are plans to remove the causeway and replace it with a ferry.





Le Mont-St-Michel was used in the 6th and 7th centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Romano-British culture and power, until it was sacked by the Franks; thus ending the trans-channel culture that had stood since the departure of the Romans in 459 AD.

Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.

The mount gained strategic significance in 933 when the Normans annexed the Cotentin Peninsula, thereby placing the mount on the new frontier with Brittany. Ducal and royal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.

The wealth and influence of the abbey extended to many daughter foundations, including St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, England. However, its popularity and prestige as a centre 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 and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican rgime. High-profile political prisoners followed, but by 1836 influential figures, including Victor Hugo, had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874. The Mont Saint Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.


The tides in the area shift quickly, and has been described by Victor Hugo as " la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" or as swiftly as a galloping horse. However, this is an exaggeration, as the tide actually comes in at 1 metre per second.

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 meters between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed St. Michael in peril of the sea by mediaeval pilgrims making their way across the tidal flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast. The dangers from the tides and quicksands continue to claim lives.



The First Bank Loans

During the 11th century, the monks living at Mont Saint Michel had to come up with new way of earning financial returns on their assets. For the first time in history, a religious community did not have to work for a living, thanks to the generous gifts of the pilgrims. Their capital was the land they either bought or were given by princes and kings, and their income came from 3 differrent sources:

For the first time in history, a religious community did not need to work for a living. The pilgrims, who were filled with wonder at the Month St Michel and its fortified monastery, supported them with their donations!


Benedictine: ベネディクト会修道士      compromised: 妥協・譲歩  

monastic: 修道院の  subsequent: 後の   pilgrims: 巡礼者       

donation: 寄付



渡辺 拓男