History on Le Mont Saint Michel, Brittany and Normandy
Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century,
the island was called "monte tombe". According to legend, St. Michael the Archangel
appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, 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 tactical importance in 933 when William "Long Sword", William
I, Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula, definitively placing the mount
in Normandy. It is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the 1066 Norman
conquest of England. Ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture
of the abbey in subsequent centuries.
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
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 siege of Mont-Saint-Michel,
are still displayed near the outer 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 a chapel for the order, but because
of its great distance from Paris his intention could never be realized.
The prosperity and authority of the abbey extended to many daughter foundations,
including St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. However, its 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. The abbey was closed and converted
into a reformatory, 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. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the list of World
Heritage Sites in 1979, as it was listed with criteria such as cultural, historical,
and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.
The coat of arms for Mont St Michel
The arms of Mont Saint-Michel are blazoned with :
azure 2 bars wavy veer, overall two salmons argent in bend sinister placed pale wise,
the upper one facing sinister.