Tag Archives: Victor Hugo

The miracle of Mont Saint Michel

The Monastery of Mont Saint Michel sits easily on its rock in the English Channel, just off the Normandy Coast, a fixture of the landscape. Yet, it took an apparition, a burnt skull,  determination, several minor miracles  and incredible feats of construction to put it there.

Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel

In 708, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop Aubert of Avranches and told him to build a church on a small rocky island, just off the nearby coast, in the English Channel. Believing the island to be a difficult, if not impossible site on which to build anything, let alone something a large and complex as a church, the Bishop steadfastly ignored the Archangel. Finally, the exasperated Michael burned a hole in Aubert’s skull and at last, he acquiesced. The  Monastery of Saint Michel was built. The Monastery became one of the holiest and most frequented pilgrimage sites in the known world and the Bishop became Saint Aubert.

The view from Mont Saint Michel
The view from Mont Saint Michel

In 1067, the Monastery lent its support to William the Conqueror in his invasion of England and his campaign for the English Crown. The Monastery and the treacherous sea that surrounds it feature in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The Monastery was handsomely rewarded for its support, with a grant of land, which included an island  off the coast of Cornwall. A Norman Priory, modelled on Saint Michel and named Saint Michael’s Mount of Penzance, was established there.

The popularity and prestige of Mont Saint Michel declined over the ensuing centuries and by the time of the French Revolution, only a few monks remained in residence. During the revolution, the monastery was converted into a prison and precious frescos, paintings, furniture and books were tossed into the surrounding bay.

In 1836, prominent members of the French, including Victor Hugo, launched a campaign to save and restore what was left of the Monastery. They finally succeeded in closing the prison and Mont Saint Michel was declared an historic monument in 1874.

The permanent population of Mont Saint Michel is only about 40, but as it is one of the most visited monuments in France, thousands pour in every day to walk its ancient halls and pathways or to pick their way around its perilous sands at low tide.

Mont St Michel is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

La Place des Vosges

Arguably the most beautiful of the many “places” or squares in Paris is La Place des Vosges.

La Place des Vosges
La Place des Vosges

The breathtakingly beautiful Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris. Commissioned  in 1605 by Henri IV, it formed the prototype for residential squares in cities all around Europe. Nothing of the kind had been seen before. Originally named La Place Royale, the square was inaugurated in 1612 to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.  It was re-named, as La Place des Vosges, in 1799 when the Department of Vosges became the first department to pay taxes supporting a campaign of the French Revolutionary army. So, really the name was a reward for support for the new, anti-royalist France.

At 140 metres by 140 metres La Place des Vosges is a true square. The facades of the houses that line it are all built to the same design from red brick with stone strips over vaulted arcades, steeply pitched blue slate rooves and small panelled dormer windows. Like many of the ‘places” of Paris, La Place des Vosges is planted with Linden trees, surrounded by lawns and gravel paths.

La Place des Vosges has been home to many famous French people including Victor Hugo who lived in L’Hôtel Rohan-Guéménée which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.

Like many of the “places” in Paris La Place des Vosges  is a quiet retreat from the noisy, busy city