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HomeHistorical backgrounds > Mont-Saint-Michel, a shrine

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Mont-Saint-Michel, a shrine

Legend recounts how the Archangel Michael appeared three times in dreams to Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, to ask him to build a church in his honour on the summit of « Mont Tombe ».
This first church was modelled on the Italian site of Mont Gargan (5th century), and consecrated by the Bishop on 16th October 709.
It was served by twelve priests, and very rapidly attracted a large number of pilgrims. In 966, Richard, Duke of Normandy, replaced the priest with Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Saint-Wandrille, near Rouen.
In the Middle ages, the Abbey was visited by kings, and crowds of people from all over Europe, and enjoyed a great reputation.
These major building works which took place during the 11th and 15th centuries witness to its prosperity. It was ravaged several times both by fire from the sky and the fury of men.
English forces besieged Mont-saint-Michel for nearly thirty years and, defended by one hundred and nineteen knights, it was considered as the heroic symbol of national resistance during the Hundred Years’ War.
But, from the middle of the 16th century, the Mont began to lose its military and religious importance.
Despite becoming part of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in 1622, the Abbey no longer sheltered more than the handful of religious and a few prisoners locked up on the King’s orders in this “seaside fortress”.
The monks were chased away in the French Revolution in 1790, and “Mont Libre” (the Free Mont) became a prison for rebellious priest.The ransacked Abbey was a state prison until 1863, where several hundred prisoners were kept locked up in appalling conditions.
Classified Historical Monument in 1874, The abbey was at last restored. Architects Corroyer, Petitgrand and Gout, pupils of Viollet-le-Duc, followed each other at the head of this vast project, completing the silhouette of the Mont in 1897 with fine neo-Gothic spire crowned with the statue of the archangel by scultor Frémiet.
The community was linked to the coast by a causeway in 1878, and has enjoyed a spectacular revival through the development of tourism, and a spiritual renewal with the celebrations of the monastic millennium in 1966, and the establishment in 1969 of a small community of religious in the Abbey.

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