Exactly a thousand years ago, the foundation stone of the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel, located in Normandy, France, was laid. Over the centuries, this architectural masterpiece has become an iconic symbol of French Catholic identity and one of the world’s most prominent pilgrimage destinations, attracting over 3 million visitors annually. In commemoration of this significant milestone, a series of celebrations will take place throughout the fall of 2023. Although the construction of the current abbey church at Mont Saint-Michel was initiated in 1023, historical accounts suggest that an initial church dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel was erected as early as 708 on the mount, which was then referred to as Mont-Tombe.
National Catholic Register reports:
It was exactly a millennium ago that the first stone of the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel, in French Normandy, was laid. The monument that the poet Victor Hugo called the “Khéops of the West” has since become one of the highest symbols of French Catholic identity and one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world, with more than 3 million visitors a year.
This important anniversary will give rise to a number of celebrations that will continue through the fall of 2023.
Standing on relatively inhospitable terrain, enthroned on a rocky islet less than a kilometer in diameter, surrounded by a vast sandy plain subject to the vagaries of the tides, the UNESCO World Heritage site has stood the test of time, offering itself as a spectacle for dozens of generations to see.
Indeed, the history of this place of prayer and pilgrimage was as precarious and tumultuous as its surroundings.
While the construction of the present abbey church dates back to 1023, a first church dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel is said to have been built as early as 708 on the mount, then known as Mont-Tombe.
According to Revelation, the oldest text reporting the context of the abbey’s construction (written around the beginning of the 11th century), St. Aubert, then-bishop of Avranches, was visited three times in a dream by the archangel, who instructed him to erect a sanctuary in his honor on the summit of the site, “so that he whose venerable commemoration was celebrated at Mont Gargan [the first great shrine dedicated to the Leader of the Celest Army, in the Puglia region of Italy] might be celebrated with no less fervor in the middle of the sea.”
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