|When I was a little girl, perusing my geography book in a grade I can’t quite remember, I came across a photograph of and sidebar on the island castle/monastery Mont Saint Michel. Its inaccessibility, magnificence, and antiquity fascinated me. I remember reflecting that never in a million years would I get the chance to visit such a cool place. It was a place to dream on, though. Well, a million years rolls around sooner than you would ever expect. Last month, I found myself journeying to the mysterious isle, and not being disappointed.
The tide was out when we arrived––otherwise, we never could have crossed to the towering rock island, which would have been surrounded by tide-ripped ocean. Still, no one ought to feel all that much at ease, even with the tide out, for the sands hide quicksand, waiting to suck you down. So, stay on that boardwalk! Then, when the tide comes back in, it’s with a rush that’s earned the nick-name “galloping horses.”
The monastery/cathedral that tops the island seems like an organic outgrowth, built into the rock, as is the village, circled by city walls, that spirals up narrow, cobbled streets and ancient stone stairs to the magnificent edifice melded into the summit.
Fortunately, the collapsible stool Yang got me, enabled me to climb almost ad infinitum, with moments of rest to forestall the onslaught of my plantar fasciitis pain.
It’s a long drop below.
What would a castle/cathedral be without presiding gargoyles?
The church where mass was said had beautiful Gothic architecture
Outside at the top were gardens, which reminded me of the Cloisters in New York, near Fort Tryon State Park. The Cloisters is clearly inspired by this wonderful aspect of some monasteries. But how do these flowers grow so beautifully on an island smack dab in the ocean? How do the salt air and the harsh winter cold affect them?
Inside, within the monastery that contains that cathedral space is the refectory that fed a passel of monks and their royal guests in ages long ago. They must have seen me coming and hidden all the food.
Crypt: here, the crypt refers to the original meaning, a hidden place as opposed to a burial place. This was one of the vast chambers in the monastery. The lack of light in these rooms made taking photographs extremely difficult, so I can’t share the dark, dreamy quality of the chambers that twisted around each other. That’s why the image of the Black Madonna here (a much later installation) isn’t the best. I could definitely understand why in “The Horla” Guy deMaupassant characterized Mont Saint Michel as a setting that left one susceptible to possibilities of the fantastic and eerie.
Going down showed us the beauty and magnificence of the curving stone walls, seeming to be an organic extension of the mountain rock.
And gorgeous flowers and other plants revealed Nature’s tenacity, growing from the slightest cracks in man-made and Nature-made walls.
Back in the village, we wound down the narrow streets, toward St. Michael’s Church, with the warrior angel, himself, on guard in statue form by the door. We visited inside and felt the joy of painting, stained glass, and statuary celebrating wonder at the Divinity (Take that Protestant Reformation!). We also visited a tiny cemetery of tall gravestones with plots of flowers or colored broken stones enclosed by stone borders. Finally, we made it to a little cafe for lunch, where I managed to order in French without embarrassing us! Mmm, savory galettes of jambon, champignons, and fromage, complemented by cafe au lait. What a wonderful day.