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Published: October 5th 2015
Mont Saint Michel 30th
Everyone has seen pictures of this place.
Its monastery built on a little rock that is about 1 kilometre in circumference.
It’s a big piece of pyramid shaped granite sticking out of musdan ( my word for a slurry of sand and mud- a bit like the sand & water mixture for making concrete but before adding cement powder). At low tide its connected to mainland France by musdan. At some high tides it is cut off and becomes an island. Even the causeway ( raised and rebuilt in its present form in 2014) went under when we visited. For about an hour between 9pm and 10 pm I caught on the wrong ( island ) side and had to wait till old King Kannut came along and pushed the waters back. More later.
This is the rock the Benedictines wrapped buildings around.
Building began in year 708 AD, with strong influences of 12th
century building styles, then continuing to the 18th
A Few Things that I found Interesting.
New Fashion Accessory
Not too many platoons of tourists. Maybe because it’s
just out of peak season. But I discovered a new fashion accessory. You see, some guide books must be putting out the idea that climbing the slopes and stairs of Mont Saint Michel is some sort of its a trekking expedition. Now those walking poles that mountain trekkers use are being put to work on the sloping walkways , the stairs and ramparts of the old town. Well some parts might be as steep as say the hike up Adelaide or Creek Streets in Brissie. What is even more remarkable about cross country trekking sticks I saw here is he trims on the ends - not just light weight jousting sticks for the average Claude or Celine French man or woman – but palm sculpted grip ends on a stained piece of timber colour coordinated with the owner’s leather shoes, belt and bag. That’s all very mundane I know. Mont Saint Michel is are a rather ritzy destination. A place to be seen if you want to bump into a posh society Madame in the hope of milking an invite to a cocktail engageant or artistic exposition a la Louvre. So to finish of a good pair of trekking sticks
a truly fashion conscious Frenchman would attach gold plated hand grips and platinum ground tips to your light jousting stick. So if you have been reading carefully - and keeping in mind that Christmas is just around the corner - well I would not want to put someone tot the trouble of wrapping something which is only brass plated. You would not want to think the perfect accessory never came out of my dressing room because its insufficiently gaudy, would you now?
No religious artefacts in the Abbey
What’s so special about this abbey?
Well its one of only a few that we have gone inside. Here abbeys are bit like prisons – every region has one.
And there is another relevance of the word “prison” for the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel. While it was originally a Benedictine monastery it ahs not always been so. After the Revolution up to 1863 it was used as a prison.
I saw very few statues or religious art in the monastery or in the town. Only in the churches – a smallish “parish “ church in the “town” part of the island- and the abbey
church was there much in the way of statues or religious icons. This seemed a bit strange in a country where crucifixes or statues can be seen in most villages or at random intersections. But I can only assume that such images were stripped during the period the abbey became a prison.
Monks Ossuary Wheel house.
In the second floor area of the abbey building the monks had a large area called the ossuary. It housed a vault where human bones exhumed from churchyards were preserved. In the abbey’s life as a prison a huge lifting device was installed. A steep ramp was built up the side of the rock and building. To winch goods up a huge wheel was installed – to act as a pulley drawing a sled on a rope up the steep slope.
Getting Caught on the Wrong Side.
Time for the referee to blow a whistle.
I thought it might take about an hour to go from our camp to the 2 klm long causeway that connects mainland France to the island of Mont Saint Michel – see the tide lap over the road and duck
back to base.
Everything went more or less to plan until when the rising tide waters started to lap over the roadway. In the doubtful light at 9 pm and with lights from the Mont shining toward me, I went to the island side. From there I tried to photograph with stronger light behind me. Its not really much to photograph. Dark muddy water lapping over black bitumen – not terribly photogenic. But its a rare event. Tidal range can be as much as 14 meters here. At less active phases of the moon the range may be more like 11 meters. Only 2 or 3 times a month is the tide high enough to cover the causeway. So we were witnessing a relatively rare event. We had seen how far the water receded – perhaps as much as 8 or 10 kilometers from the high tide mark. Now we could see it at its peak and cutting the Mont off to make an island. So in vain I tried to photograph the rising waters as separate bodies of water lapped the western and eastern sides of the causeway in a hope of getting a pictorial image of the
meeting of the two bits of sea. Perhaps a little later I might get an image of seawaters parting – just as Moses saw in the Middle East a long time ago. So I got positioned on the seaward side near the entrance to the town on the Mont – facing toward the mainland and our camp. Then the lapping of water got moving. In a matter of a few seconds it was up over the road and along with other observers I was shuffling back toward the town gate of Mont Saint Michel – cut off from the mainland and my camp. It all happened in a few seconds and surprised me. The French call this surge the mascaret. Its a tidal surge that is often 60cm high and comes at the extreme end as rising waters from a 25 klm stretch of coastline push into a narrow apex. Mont Saint Michel is located in the corner of a bay- its like being at the apex of a roughly right angle triangle. In a falling tide water recedes along a long hypotenuse. On a rising tide the surge accelerates to the pointy bit – Mont Saint Michel. And so
i had to wait for water to settle then recede. Once the tide peaked it settled for about an hour. Then as suddenly as it came in – the dark water vanished into a mudsan darkness.
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