by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac (excerpt from Soul Satisfying Journeys)
Mont Saint Michel is an island in Normandy, France. It is located off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. Breathtaking and fascinating this sacred structure was built in the year 708 after St. Aubert, then bishop of Avranches was believed to be visited in a dream by Saint Michael. The bishop was commanded to build a shrine for him on the nearby rock in the sea called Mount Tombe. Sure that this dream was just a figment of his imagination, the bishop simply ignored it. St. Michael appeared repeatedly to the bishop, who kept ignoring the Archangel’s instruction until by the third appearance, St. Michael left his finger mark on Aubert’s skull. (This skull is displayed at the Saint Gervais d’Avranches Basilica with the scar on it.) This was all the proof the bishop needed to have a chapel built on the island. According to the archangel, this sanctuary should be a replica of the Gargano in Italy (from the 5th century). Bishop Aubert sent two monks to acquire artifacts from the Italian sanctuary Gargano (a rock with his foot print and a piece of St. Michael red cape that was mysterious left at Gargano after his appearance).
Between the 11th and 16th centuries, this Romanesque styled sanctuary grew in stages, going through three major transitions to finally become the Gothic style of architectural wonder we know today with its sky scraping turrets and towers, impressive abbey and precious village that has changed over time. It has been everything from a simple place of pilgrimage, to a prison, as well as the most invincible fortress of France, never conquered by any enemy. It has remained a place of venerated awe and beauty. But, what also gives this sacred place its sense of intrigue is its unique natural setting. Standing on a rocky island in the center of a bay, the island is invaded by the largest tides in Europe. The difference in low and high tides can reach an astonishing 49 feet! The sandy surface would be immerged so quickly by the tide it was said the water would rush in “like a galloping horse!” Mont St Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and more than 3 million people visit it each year!
Our journey to Mont St. Michel was not an easy one. The train from Paris was very expensive. Once we were on the train, it was delayed twice along the way, forcing us to miss not one, but two connections to Pontorson. Once in Rennes, we had to take the local train to Dol. Because of the missed connections, the train company paid for a taxi from Dol to Mont St. Michel, which was an additional 26 miles and 70 euro more. But, I have to say, once we entered the causeway on the shuttle bus… all the drama was left behind us as we stared in awe at the magnificent structure of Mont St. Michel! It was just about sunset as the sun was sizzling into the horizon in the west and the moon was rising over the east. The juxtaposition of the moon to the sun with Mont St. Michele in the middle, was an image I will never forget!
We made a reservation at the Le Mouton Blanc (http://www.lemoutonblanc.fr/en). In the heart of Mont St Michel, at the foot of the monastery, Mouton Blanc Hotel, has historic fame. This wonderful hotel invites you into its classic setting from the 14th century and its quiet rooms, filled with charm and luxurious comfort. If you are going to Mont St. Michel, I encourage you to stay on the island. The experience was immeasurable! The hotel also has a famous restaurant. Set between land and sea with traditional cuisine, we feasted on traditional fare from the region, with lamb, seafood (prawn and mussels) and steak being the main attraction. The pre-fix menu of three courses offers a wonderful sampling of an appetizer, main course and wonderful French dessert choices for about 22 euro. We had exceptional service and the classic dining room was warm and cozy. The hotel also offered a full buffet breakfast for 17 euro that was very satisfying. The other benefit to staying on the island was that most of the tour groups would leave the island at about 7 pm, giving the “residence” the ability to move freely about to explore the amazing town and surrounding structures. Our room had wonderful double windows that opened up to the rooftops and sea beyond them! It was breathtaking to see the ever changing colors of the sand in the morning light and the birds singing outside the window!
We had an early breakfast and made our way up through the ramparts to the entrance of the abbey. You pay a nominal fee at the door and are also offered the option of a pre-recorded guided tour with many stops of interest along the way. We ventured up the grand staircase to the top of the first terrace and entrance to the cathedral. A very minimalist setting, the sunlight streamed in through the towering structure and kissed the simple wooden seats facing the altar. There was only a plain cross upon it with a statue of St. Michael to the left. In the nave, to the left was a wooden statue of the Virgin and Child, which we stopped to say the Chaplet of the Angels to give thanks for our long awaited journey to this most wondrous place!
The architecture of Mont St. Michel is a feat to behold! The original church was founded in 966 but later completely covered by the expansion of the abbey and was forgotten for centuries. Until it was discovered during some excavations at the end of the 19th century, it has been restored. Additional buildings were constructed along the original church, on top of the rock and above the church itself. The new abbey had three crypts built. In 1080, three levels were built on the north side. After a fire in 1776 it was decided to tear down the three western spans of the nave and in 1780, the current classic front was built. The foundations to support it led the abbey to split in two. Now the abbey is divided in two parts, the church/abbey and the “Merveille“. This crowning jewel of the Mont is probably the most ornate and most gothic in style. at the very top of The “Merveille”, there is a stunning cloister, spacious dining hall, study room and a chaplaincy with an ideal floor plan for going from one room to the other. The cloister has in the middle a medieval garden recreated in 1966 by a Benedict monk, Bruno de Senneville. Three arches of the cloister are opened to the sea while the center is made of box trees surrounded by Damascus roses. The squares of medicinal plants, aromatic herbs and flowers where a source for healing on many levels. Winding stairs took us down past an impressive stone wall hanging of St. Michael and St. Aubert and into the room with the tread wheel crane, which served as a windlass. It was installed during the use of the site as a prison during the French Revolution, to bring supplies to the prisoners. The wheel is so large, some prisoners would walk inside the wheel to rotate it.
Back outside of the abbey we strolled around the gardens and ramparts with unparalleled views of the ever changing sand and sea. The play of shadow and light on the surface made for a magical and almost supernatural view! We wound our way down through a quaint little cemetery and into the small parish church of consecrated to St.Pierre. Probably our favorite spot on the Mont, this church was rich in symbolism, full of wonderful gifts and offerings to St. Michael and dressed with beautiful stain glass windows, most notably one with St. Michael wielding a fire sword, approaching the Serpent and protecting the Virgin Mary and Child. It was the place we saw the most amount of monks praying and giving thanks and this little church also had the most impressive metal statue of St. Michael I have ever seen! Outside the church is a life size statue of St.Joanne of Arc. Fascinated by the site’s symbolism, I attempted to discover the many symbolic connections attributed to Mont St. Michel.
The most spectacular gift we were afforded by St. Michael was the full moon and the Penumbral Lunar Eclipse! This occurs when the Earth’s outer shadow partially covers the lunar surface. The Penumbral Eclipse began Oct 18 at 11:53 PM. It happens when the Earth’s penumbra starts touching the moon’s face. The maximum eclipse, when the moon is closest to the center of the shadow, was approximately at 1:50 AM on Oct 19th. Perched high upon the ramparts of the fortress, we watched the slow transitional period from the brilliant, Full Hunter’s Moon, to the discrete covering of the the lunar orb. It was a mystical play over the tidal waters, which seemed to swell with great speed over the sands of the mont, filling the bay with water! An amazing spectacle, since this bay has the largest tides in Europe! A lunar eclipse of the moon can help us to anticipate major changes that are forthcoming in our own lives. it is a moment when the effects of the full moon are very much amplified, while the South Node of the moon is getting enlightened by the Sun, and the North Node, brings forth our deepest aspirations and intuitions toward our spiritual meaning in this life.
When you plan on traveling from Paris to Mont St Michel by train, you can take the SNCF high-speed rail. The closest rail station to the island is located in Pontorson and so you can take the SNCF train from Paris to Rennes. This is about 3 hours and 15 minutes. Then from Rennes, you take a local train to Pontorson, which is about 56 minutes. You can take a bus from the town of Pontorson to Mont St Michel, which is approximately 14 miles. There is also a bus shuttle connection that is dependent on the train schedule and it will arrive at the causeway, 328 yards from Mont Saint Michel. If you choose this option, you can purchase your train tickets in advance, but you will need to purchase your bus ticket locally. You can take a shuttle bus over the causeway to within yards of the entrance to the structure. Attempting to reach Mont St. Michel by any other route than the causeway can be dangerous. Tourists have drowned after being cut off by the tide and getting caught up in the deep mud and quicksand surrounding the island.
It is truly a place that sits somewhere between heaven and earth! I have gathered together a wonderful group of gifts associated with St. Michael, including angelic realm jewelry, prayer beads, body fragrances, sacred incense, the Lunar Eclipse Pendant and music for healing.
Symbol References at Mount. St. Michel
2. Templar Cross