The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is a unique architectural and artistic masterpiece which today offers visitors an exceptionally light sensation, as if the rock and its abbey were floating, as if suspended, on the bay. The choice of the Abbey’s location in the 8th century was probably dictated by its natural side, conducive to spiritual elevation. The site was born of artistic and architectural genius by monk-builders who for more than 1000 years would not cease to supplement the work of their predecessors.
Abbey of Mont Saint Michel
50170 Le Mont Saint Michel
- tel : 02 33 89 80 00.
Full price / reduced price: €9 / €7. Free for EU citizens under 26 years old (free for non-EU citizens under 18 years old).
Visit with audioguide in 6 languages (in addition to the price entrance fee): Full price / reduced price : + €4.50 / + €3 .
Open every day from May through August: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ; September through April: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Open tour with guide booklet in 11 languages.
Guided tour (1 hour, 15 minutes) in French and English throughout the year and in German, Spanish and Italian in July and August.
Lecture tour (2 hours), weekends and during school holidays. Full price / reduced price: €13 / €9. Free for those under 18 years old.
Family visit (with guide, 2 hours). Full price / reduced price: €13 / €9. Free for those under 18 years old.
The history of the monument began in 709 when Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, claimed to have heard Saint Michel order him to build a church in his name. The Mont-Saint-Michel, along with Mount Gargan in southern Italy, was one of the first places of worship dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The Abbey offers a complete panorama of medieval architecture from the 11th to the 16th centuries.
The choice of the site, away from "civilization", is ideal for devoting oneself to meditation. The bishop erected a first sanctuary in honor of the Archangel and a small community of canons settled there.
At the end of the 10th century, a dozen Benedictine monks moved to the mount at the request of the Duke of Normandy, Richard 1. Construction of the new monastery began. They erected an abbey, a refectory, a dormitory, a cloister, a work room and a chaplaincy to accommodate the poor. Very quickly, the abbey became a major pilgrimage site of the Christian West, and a political and intellectual crossroads which produced a large number of manuscripts.
Many famous people came to Mont-Saint-Michel, including the kings of France : Philip I, Louis IX, Philippe Le Bel, Louis XI, François 1.
In 1204 the mount was burned by the Britons, and the north side of the abbey was destroyed. King Philip Augustus decided to finance the reconstruction and extension of the abbey. It is thanks to him that the « Merveille » (the Marvel) ensemble was built, an architectural and artistic masterpiece of Gothic style. Six rooms spread over three floors and two buildings were created: the cloister, scriptorium, refectory, pantry, Guest Hall and chaplaincy.
The architecture and layout of the abbey are unique. The elevation of the buildings reflects the pyramidal shape of the mount, as they are wrapped around the granite. The abbey church, located at the top, is based on two crypts that create a platform capable of supporting the weight of a church 80 meters long. Outside, the building is supported by strong buttresses. The structures become lighter and lighter towards the summit.
The achievement of the Merveille represents a high degree of technical skill and expertise of the builders of the time. In 1424, the Romanesque choir collapsed, and was replaced in 1490 by a new Gothic choir.
During the Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453), the mount was attacked in 1434 by 20,000 Englishmen. Its defensive system, completed a few decades before, fulfilled its role. Defended by 400 fighters, Mont-Saint-Michel resisted until the British stopped the siege. From that day foreward, the Mont-Saint-Michel was considered impregnable and became the symbol of the French resistance against the English in the kingdom of France.
During the French Revolution, the monks left the abbey, and Mont-Saint-Michel became a prison until 1864, which have saved it from destruction. From the late 19th century onward, the mount would be essentially dedicated to two things: spiritual elevation for some and tourism for others. In 1866 the parish church, under the patronage of Saint Peter, became the official shrine of the pilgrimage to Saint Michel. It remains so today.
In 1966, for the celebrations of the monastic millennium, a community of Benedictines relocated to the abbey for a few months. Three years later a new community of brothers and sisters, this time permanent, arrived to revive monastic life at Mont-Saint-Michel. The brothers and sisters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem have occupied the premises since 2001.
Once past the ticket counter situated in the former chaplaincy, the tour begins with the Salle des Gardes (guardroom), and once up the escalier monumental du Grand Degré (the monumental staircase of the Grand Degree), visitors arrive at the terrace of "Saut Gautier" (« Jumping Gautier », named after a prisoner who was cast into the void from this location). On the right stands the church and left the residence of the abbots, built between the 14th and 16th century.
Behind the Terrasse de l’Ouest (West Terrace), which serves as the church square, and offers a magnificent view of the bay, from Brittany to the cliffs of Normandy. Looking up you can see the spire in Gothic Revival style built in 1897 and topped by a statue of Saint Michael in gilded copper which rises to 157 meters. He is represented slaying a demon.
The abbey church is situated at the top of the mount, 80 meters above sea level. Part of the church is Romanesque (the nave and transept) while the choir is in a flamboyant Gothic style (15th and 16th centuries). The contrast is striking between the nave, simple and unenlightened, and the choir, refined and luminous. It was rebuilt after the collapse of Romanesque choir in 1421.
Then enters the "Merveille" (the Marvel) located on the north side of the island. This gothic ensemble was built from 1204 to 1228. It consists of six rooms spread over two buildings on two levels. The stylistic evolution from the early, rather simple work of the first level and the end of construction, revealed by the elegance and refinement of the cloister on the last level, is evident.
Located on the top floor of the Merveille, the monks came here to walk and to meditate. This gallery allowed for movement between the different buildings. During religious festivals, processions took place here. A technical and artistic masterpiece, it was completed in 1228. The staggered columns help support the weight of the paneled ceiling. The galleries are decorated with delicately executed carvings (often intertwining foliage and flowers).
As its name suggests, it is in this rectangular room that the monks took their meals. As is the doctrine of Saint Benedict, meals were in absolute silence. Only the voice of he who read the Gospels resonated in the refectory (the acoustics are impressive). The room is artfully illuminated by thin lancets, invisible when entering the room.
The Guest Hall
Situated beneath the refectory, it is here that prestigious guests, lords and kings were received. The room was lavishly furnished and decorated (paintings, tapestries, red tiles with golden lilies). Two large chimnies recall the location of the kitchen, which was separated from the room by a tapestry hanging from the beams under the Gothic arches.
Visitors leave the Merveille by passing through the Chapel of Saint Madeleine.
The Crypt of the Large Pillars (15th century) and the Crypt of Saint Martin (11th century) support the entire building. The first is particularly impressive with its ten huge pillars. From the Crypt of Saint Martin, the wheel, installed in 1820, can be accessed via a small passage. This model of large wheel was used in the Middle Ages on construction sites to lift materials, and here it was used to lift the food for prisoners when the abbey became a prison. The prisoners would walk inside it to activate the pulley system. Visitors then cross the Saint-Étienne Chapel, dedicated to the dead, then take the north-south stairs before reaching the promenade des moines, and finally re-enter the buildings of the Merveille.
The Knights' Hall
Located under the cloister, which it supports. Before taking the name Knights' Hall, it was the scriptorium, the labor room where the monks worked and copied valuable manuscripts, today preserved in Avranches.
Chaplaincy: information desk and shop
The tour ends where it began: the Chaplaincy, located in the Guest Hall. The monks welcomed the pilgrims and the poor in this large room to feed them.