Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mont St Michel, France - June 7, 2008

Sometimes billed as the 8th Wonder of the World, Mont St Michel is quite astounding. A hunk of granite jutting up from the sand, this former tidal island is about six tenths of a mile off the north coast of France in Normandy. The village built on this rock is literally brimming with cafes, bars and all the usual tasteless tourist tackiness but, the big attraction is the huge abbey perched right on the top - breathtaking! Since at least the 3rd century CE the Mont (then known as Mont Tombe) has been the location for one form or another of religious vessel. By the 11th century, already a major place of pilgrimage, the small chapel atop the rock, began its intermittent growth towards an abbey, commonly known as the Merveille or Wonder. The huge Gothic styled structure includes storerooms, a knights hall, a refectory, a chaplaincy and a guest hall. Illustrious visitors over the centuries include Saint Louis, Louis XI, and Francois I. Not everything was plain sailing however, for, as later architects worked on their ever expanding plans, there were several dramatic collapses as the weight of their endeavors crushed earlier construction. As if more drama was needed, Mont Saint Michel Bay has the highest tides in Europe - up to 45 feet during the spring tides. The sandy shore has a shallow slope and the sea therefore, recedes as much as nine miles at ebb tide, uncovering huge mussel beds and oyster farms as it goes. A scary aspect of this, put to the test many times each year apparently, is that during the flow tide, the water advances at up to 12 MPH and there are numerous patches of quicksand to negotiate on the way back to dry land. See more pictures here.

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