Mont Saint-Michel is a French “commune” (municipality), situated in the south-west of the La Manche “département” (county) and the Basse-Normandie region. It owes its name to the Abbey, built for Saint Michael, which rises from a small rocky island.
The story of Mont Saint-Michel began on a night in October 708, when the archangel Saint Michael appeared to Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, and ordered him to construct a religious building on what was then called “Mont Tombe”.
The origins of both town and monastery are thus inextricably linked, as when the first monks started to arrive, so did merchants, craftsmen and fishermen wanting to benefit from this new place of worship, and huts were constructed for them at the base of the rock.
Mont Saint-Michel is also a medieval village and many hidden treasures can be found within its walls. Today, the majority of houses in the village are made of stone, but back in the day, wood was used widely. The use of wood contributed to the amount of damage caused by fires, which led to the reconstruction of the village over the centuries. Mont Saint-Michel became one of the most important places for pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
The appeal of the Mount and village lies firstly in the unique architecture of the stone and timber-framed houses, the majority of which are classed as Historic Landmarks. Charm also comes from the highly original names given to some of the houses: “l’auberge de la truie qui file” (home of the fleeing sow), “la maison de l’artichaut” (house of the artichoke), “le jardin de l’Isle des Bas” (garden of the Lower Isle)…
Houses are built in tiers on the south and east sides of the Mount where buildings can rest solidly on the steep, rocky embankment.
Daily life on the Mount originally revolved around the pilgrims who visited the Abbey. Today however, the Montois (inhabitants of Mont Saint-Michel) are focused on tourism. Numerous businesses have opened, and many homes have been converted into museums.
But if you really want to explore the village, you need to get away from the Grande Rue (main street) and its commercial hustle and bustle. If you do, you’ll find little alleyways, gardens and hidden pathways behind some of the houses. The walkway along the city walls also offers splendid views over Mont Saint-Michel bay and the tides which sweep around the Rock twice a day.