Last modified: 2004-10-02 by ivan sache
Keywords: manche | mont-saint-michel (le) | fleurs-de-lys: 3 (yellow) | scallops: 10 (white) |
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by Arnaud Leroy
Mont-Saint-Michel is the most visited place in France, and
deserves its reputation because of its unique site and architecture.
Administratively, Mont-Saint-Michel is a municipality of 72 inhabitants (Montois).
Mont-Saint-Michel is a small granitic island of ca. 900 m of
circumference and 80 m of elevation, linked to the mainland by a dike
built in 1877. The Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, including the island and
the companion uninhabited islet of Tomblaine, is listed as World
Heritage by UNESCO (1979). The Bay has the shore with the highest
tides (maximum foreshore 15 m) in France.
Polders protected by dikes have been established there since (at least) the XIth century, and the area is famous for its moutons de prés-salés ('salted-pasture sheep'), which graze on the herbus a grass very rich in salt and have a very specific taste.
Unfortunately, the Bay is subjected to constant silting up, and Mont-Saint-Michel is really an island only a few days per year. A huge project of restoration of the Bay shall involve the replacement of the dike by a bridge and the suppression of some of the dams that limit fresh water flow into the Bay.
Ivan Sache, 25 June 2001
In the beginning of the VIIIth century, Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, was ordered by Saint Michael to build a sanctuary on the Mont-Tombe. Aubert was a bit reluctant until the Archangel sticked his finger into Aubert's head. In the past, Aubert's putative skull with the mark of the Archangel's finger was exhibited in the cathedral of Avranches. In the meantime, a geological disaster engulfed the woody area around the Mount, which became an island on which Aubert built the required sanctuary.
The building of the Merveille ('The Wonder'), the Gothic
fortified abbey, lasted from XIIIth to XVIth century, and the
sanctuary rapidly became a popular pilgrimage place. The single
steep, narrow street which leads from the fortified entrance gate of
the island to the fortified entrance gate of the abbey was already
crowded with shops offering souvenirs and pseudo-relics to the
pilgrims. During the Hundred Years' War, the English, who ruled over
the area, granted access to the sanctuary. The fortified abbey was
the only place in the north-west of France which was never
In 1969, a small group of Benedictine monks came back to the abbey and they are still trying to maintain a monastic life in spite of the touristic turmoil.
The location of Mont-Saint-Michel is a traditional matter of controversy between Bretons and Normands. In the IXth century, the border between the two feudal states was fixed as the Couesnon river, which flows into the Bay, and leaves the Mont to its right. Therefore, Mont-Saint-Michel is in Normandy, and a famous Breton dictum (with several variants) says:
'Et le Couesnon en sa folie, / And Couesnon, in its
A mis le Mont en Normandie. / Placed the Mount in Normandy. '
Ivan Sache, 25 June 2001
The municipal flag of Mont-Saint-Michel, as photographed by Hervé Prat, is a banner of the municipal arms. These arms are:
De sable à six coquilles d'argent 3, 2 et 1 ; au chef d'azur, à trois fleurs de lys d'or.
Sable six escallops argent a chief azure three fleur-de-lys or.
Brian Timms, who gives the blazons, states that a variant of the municipal arms with ten scallops has been reported. It seems that the designer of the municipal flag followed the variant,ten scallops being maybe a better geometrical way to fill a rectangular space than only six of them.
The scallop is called in French coquille Saint-Jacques (St. James'
shell). According to the Grand Robert de la Langue Française, pilgrims
going to Santiago attached a scallop to their coat and hat. The pilgrims
going to Mont-Saint-Michel did the same.
There was also a group of nasty rascals who attached a scallop to their cape in order to look like honorable pilgrims. They were called Coquillards.
Ivan Sache, 16 April 2004
by Ivan Sache
There is a vertical, forked banner divided red-yellow, hoisted on the windows and balcony of the Logis de Tiphaine ('Tiphaine's Abode').
Famous constable Bertrand Du Guesclin is said to have purchased
this house in 1365 to establish his wife Tiphaine Raguenel in a safe
place when he was captain of the neighbouring garrison of Pontorson,
on the border between Normandy and Brittany.
Du Guesclin met Tiphaine Raguenel in Dinan in 1357 during a tournament that opposed him to the infamous knight Cantorbery, who had broken a truce and captured Bertrand's brother by felony. Tiphaine was said to be clever and refined, but was immediatly charmed by Du Guesclin, known as very coarse. Anyway, their union was very happy, they married and got a lot of children
Ivan Sache, 25 June 2001