mont saint-michel, france 7.2009
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Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky tidal island and a commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometer off the country's north coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches.
In prehistoric times the bay was land. As sea levels rose erosion shaped the coastal landscape over millions of years. Several blocks of granite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks.
Mont-Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Romano-Breton culture and power, until it was ransacked by the Franks, thus ending the trans-channel culture that had stood since the departure of the Romans in AD 460.
According to legend, St. Michael the Archangel appeared to St. Aubert in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until St. Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.
The mount gained strategic significance in 933 when William I, Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula, definitively placing the mount in Normandy.
In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island located at the west of Cornwall, which, modelled after the Mount, became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance.
During the Hundred Years' War the English made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey's improved fortifications. Les Michelettes, two wrought-iron bombards left by the English in their failed 1423–24 siege of Mont-Saint-Michel, are still displayed near the outer defense wall.
When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1496 he intended that the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel be the chapel for the order, but because of its great distance from Paris his intention could never be realized.
The abbey popularity and prestige as a centre of pilgrimage waned with the Reformation, and by the time of the French Revolution there were scarcely any monks in residence. Thus, it was closed and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican régime. High-profile political prisoners followed, but by 1836 influential figures, including Victor Hugo, had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874.
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