Coordinates: 48°38′10″N 1°30′40″W / 48.636°N 1.511°W / 48.636; -1.511
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Le Mont-Saint-Michel
September 2018 view from the southeast at sunrise
September 2018 view from the southeast at sunrise
Coat of arms of Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Location of Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is located in France
Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is located in Normandy
Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Coordinates: 48°38′10″N 1°30′40″W / 48.636°N 1.511°W / 48.636; -1.511
IntercommunalityCommunauté d'agglomération Mont-Saint-Michel-Normandie
 • Mayor (2020–2026) Jacques Bono[1]
4.00 km2 (1.54 sq mi)
 • Density6.3/km2 (16/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+01:00 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+02:00 (CEST)
INSEE/Postal code
50353 /50116
Elevation5–80 m (16–262 ft)
Part ofMont-Saint-Michel and its Bay
CriteriaCultural: i, iii, vi
Inscription1979 (3rd Session)
Area6,560 hectares (16,200 acres)
Buffer zone57,510 hectares (142,100 acres)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

Mont-Saint-Michel[3] (French pronunciation: [lə mɔ̃ sɛ̃ miʃɛl]; Norman: Mont Saint Miché; English: Saint Michael's Mount) is a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy, France.

The island[4] lies approximately one kilometre (one-half nautical mile) off France's north-western coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches and is 7 hectares (17 acres) in area. The mainland part of the commune is 393 hectares (971 acres) in area so that the total surface of the commune is 400 hectares (990 acres).[5][6] As of 2019, the island had a population of 29.[7]

The commune's position—on an island just a few hundred metres (yards) from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, and defensible as the incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War. A small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433.[8] Louis XI recognised the benefits of its natural defence and turned it into a prison. The abbey was used regularly as a prison during the Ancien Régime.

Mont-Saint-Michel and its surrounding bay were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 for its unique aesthetic and importance as a Catholic site.[9] It is visited by more than three million people each year. Over 60 buildings within the commune are protected in France as historical monuments.[10]

In 2023, President Macron marked 1,000 years of the abbey, and the success of the hydraulic dam project and the elevated pedestrian bridge in restoring water flow in the bay, making the mount an island again.[11]



Now a rocky tidal island, the mount occupied dry land in prehistoric times. As sea levels rose, erosion reshaped the coastal landscape, and several outcrops of granite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks. These included Lillemer, Mont Dol, Tombelaine (the island just to the north), and Mont Tombe, later called Mont-Saint-Michel.

Mont-Saint-Michel consists of leucogranite which solidified from an underground intrusion of molten magma about 525 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, as one of the younger parts of the Mancellian granitic batholith.[12] Early studies of Mont-Saint-Michel by French geologists sometimes describe the leucogranite of the Mont as "granulite", but this granitic meaning of granulite is now obsolete.[13]

The mount has a circumference of about 960 m (3,150 ft) and its highest point is 92 m (302 ft) above sea level.[14]


The tides vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres (46 ft) between highest and lowest water marks. Popularly nicknamed "St. Michael in peril of the sea" by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast.

Polderisation and occasional flooding have created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavoured meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow or salt marsh lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants that depend on income from the many visitors to the mount.

Tidal island[edit]

Mont-Saint-Michel at low tide
The Mont-Saint-Michel in 2014 with the new bridge

The connection between Mont-Saint-Michel and the mainland has changed over the centuries. Previously connected by a tidal causeway uncovered only at low tide, this was converted into a raised causeway in 1879, preventing the tide from scouring the silt around the mount. The coastal flats have been polderised to create pastureland, decreasing the distance between the shore and the island, and the Couesnon river has been canalised, reducing the dispersion of the flow of water. These factors have all encouraged silting-up of the bay.

In June 2006, the French prime minister and regional authorities announced a €200 million project (Projet Mont-Saint-Michel)[15] to build a hydraulic dam using the waters of the Couesnon and the tides to help remove the accumulated silt, and to make Mont-Saint-Michel an island again. The construction of the dam began in 2009. The project included the removal of the causeway and its visitor car park. Since April 2012, the new car park on the mainland has been located 2.5 kilometres (1+12 mi) from the island. Visitors can walk or use shuttles to cross the causeway.

In July 2014, the new bridge, by architect Dietmar Feichtinger, was opened to the public. The light bridge allows waters to flow freely around the island and improves the efficiency of the now-operational dam. The bridge, which cost €209 million, was opened by President François Hollande.[16]

On rare occasions, tidal circumstances produce an extremely high "supertide". The new bridge was completely submerged on 21 March 2015 by the highest sea level, a once-in-18-years occurrence, as crowds gathered to snap photos.[17]


From the 8th century onward[edit]

Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe (Latin: tumba). According to a legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.[18]

Unable to defend his kingdom against the assaults of the Vikings, the king of the Franks agreed to grant the Cotentin peninsula and the Avranchin, including Mont-Saint-Michel traditionally linked to the city of Avranches, to the Bretons in the Treaty of Compiègne. This marked the beginning of a brief period of Breton possession of the Mont. In fact, these lands and Mont-Saint-Michel were never really included in the duchy of Brittany. Around 989–990 these traditional bishoprics, dependent of the archbishopric of Rouen and that had been left vacant during the time of the Viking raids, regained their bishops.[19]

The mount gained strategic significance again in 933 when William I Longsword annexed the Cotentin Peninsula from the weakened Duchy of Brittany. This made the mount definitively part of Normandy, and is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the Norman Conquest. Harold Godwinson is pictured on the tapestry rescuing two Norman knights from the quicksand in the tidal flats during the Breton–Norman war. Norman ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.[citation needed]

Bayeux Tapestry scenes 16 and 17: William and Harold at Mont-Saint-Michel (at top centre), Harold rescuing knights from quicksand.

In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the English throne. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modelled after Mont-Saint-Michel and became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance.[citation needed]

Two bombards abandoned by English forces and currently on display.

During the Hundred Years' War, English forces unsuccessfully besieged Mont-Saint-Michel (which was under French control) twice. The first siege started in 1423, and was lifted the next year. In 1433, an English force equipped with wrought-iron bombards and under the command of Thomas Scales, 7th Baron Scales again besieged the island. It was likewise lifted the next year. Scales's men abandoned two bombards they had used during the siege on 17 June 1434; they were recovered by the French and are currently on display.[20]

When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469, he intended that the abbey church of Mont-Saint-Michel become the chapel for the order, but because of its great distance from Paris, his intention could never be realized.[citation needed]

The wealth and influence of the abbey extended to many daughter foundations, including St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. 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 prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican regime. High-profile political prisoners followed. By 1836, influential figures—including Victor Hugo—had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was closed in 1863.

In 1872 French architect of historic monuments Édouard Corroyer was responsible for assessing the condition of Mont-Saint-Michel. It took him about two years to convince his minister to classify it as a historic monument, and it was officially declared as such in 1874. From then on Corroyer, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, devoted fifteen years of his life to the restoration of "la Merveille". Under his direction, gigantic works were undertaken, starting with the most urgent. He wrote four works on the building and his name remains forever attached to the resurrection of Mont-Saint-Michel.[citation needed]

During the occupation of France in World War II, German soldiers occupied Mont-Saint-Michel, where they used St. Aubert church as a lookout post. The island was a major attraction for German tourists and soldiers, with around 325,000 German tourists from July 18, 1940, to the end of the occupation of France.

After the Allies' initial D-Day invasion of Normandy that began on June 6, 1944, many exhausted German soldiers retreated to strongholds like Mont-Saint-Michel. On August 1, 1944, a single American soldier – Private Freeman Brougher of Pennsylvania and the 72nd Publicity Service Battalion – reached and liberated Mont-Saint-Michel accompanied by two British reporters, Gault MacGowan of the New York Sun and Paul Holt with the London Daily Express. Jubilant crowds of locals greeted Brougher, Holt and MacGowan, and Brougher signed the Golden Book, the island's record of visiting nobility, at the mayor's invitation. The abbey was also used as a prison for the first time since the French Revolution when male collaborators with the Germans were jailed there.[21][22]

Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, listed with criteria such as cultural, historical, and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.[9]

Mont Saint Michel in 2023

In June 2023, President Emanuel Macron visited Mont-Saint-Michel to mark the 1,000-year anniversary of the abbey. He stated that the changes since the hydraulic dam and the new bridge opened have lessened the silting, making it an island again.[11]

Abbey design[edit]

A plan of the mount by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc

In the 11th century, William of Volpiano, the Italian architect who had built Fécamp Abbey in Normandy, was chosen by Richard II, Duke of Normandy, to be the building contractor. He designed the Romanesque church of the abbey, daringly placing the transept crossing at the top of the mount. Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for this weight. These formed the basis for the supportive upward structure that can be seen today. Today Mont-Saint-Michel is seen as a building of Romanesque architecture.

Robert de Thorigny, a great supporter of Henry II of England, who was also Duke of Normandy, reinforced the structure of the buildings and built the main façade of the church in the 12th century. In 1204, Guy of Thouars, regent for the Duchess of Brittany, as vassal of the King of France, undertook a siege of the Mount. After setting fire to the village and massacring the population, he beat a retreat under the powerful walls of the abbey. The fire which he lit extended to the buildings, and the roofs fell prey to the flames. Horrified by the cruelty of his Breton ally, Philip Augustus offered Abbot Jordan a grant for the reconstruction of the abbey in the new Gothic architectural style.[23]

Charles VI is credited with adding major fortifications to the abbey-mount, building towers, successive courtyards, and strengthening the ramparts.



The cloister

The islet belongs to the French commune of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, in the département of Manche, in Normandy.[24] The nearest significant town, with an SNCF train station, is Pontorson, with a population of slightly over 4,000. Mont-Saint-Michel belongs to the Organization of World Heritage Cities.


Inside the walls of Mont-Saint-Michel
Historical population of Le Mont-Saint-Michel
YearPop.±% p.a.
YearPop.±% p.a.
YearPop.±% p.a.
From the year 1962 on: No double counting—residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) are counted only once.
Source: EHESS[25] and Insee[26]
1956–1962 1962–1968 1968–1975 1975–1982 1982–1990 1990–1999
xx 13 16 8 6 4
1956–1962 1962–1968 1968–1975 1975–1982 1982–1990 1990–1999
xx 6 6 4 5 3

Up to 20,000 people[citation needed] visit the city during the summer months. Among the 43 inhabitants as of 2006, five were monks and seven nuns.

The Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem[edit]

Since June 2001, following the appeal addressed to them in 2000 by Jacques Fihey, Bishop of Coutances and Avranches,[27] a community of monks and nuns of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, sent from the mother-house of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais in Paris, have been living as a community on Mont-Saint-Michel. They replaced the Benedictine monks who returned to the mount in 1966. They are tenants of the centre for national monuments and are not involved in the management of the abbey.

The community has seven sisters and four brothers. Their life revolves around prayer, work and fraternal life.[27] The community meets four times a day to recite the liturgical office in the abbey, or in the crypt of Notre-Dame des Trente Cierges in winter. In this way, the building keeps its original purpose as a place of prayer and singing the glory of God. The presence of the community attracts many visitors and pilgrims who come to join in the various liturgical celebrations.

In 2012, the community undertook the renovation of a house on the mount, the Logis Saint-Abraham, which is used as a guest house for pilgrims on retreat.

People and places of note[edit]


The Mont-Saint-Michel has long "belonged" to some families who shared the businesses in the town and succeeded to the village administration. Tourism is almost the sole source of income of the commune. Tourism brought about $63 million to the small island in 2014.[28] There are about 50 shops for three million tourists. About 25 people sleep every night on the mount, monks included, except for those in hotels. The main institutions are shared by:

  • Eric Vannier, owner of the group Mère Poulard (holding half of restaurants, shops, hotels and three museums);
  • Jean-Yves Vételé, CEO of Sodetour (five hotels, a supermarket and shops—all extramural—including Mercury Barracks);
  • Patrick Gaul, former elected official, hotelier and intramural restaurateur;
  • Independent merchants.

Twin towns and sister cities[edit]

Historically, Mont-Saint-Michel was the Norman counterpart of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, UK, which was given to the Benedictines, the religious order of Mont-Saint-Michel, by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century. The two mounts share the same tidal island characteristics and a similar conical shape, though Mont-Saint-Michel is much taller.[32]

A statue of Archangel Michael atop the spire

Modern pilgrimage[edit]

During the medieval period, pilgrims walked from Italy, Germany and England, as well as other parts of France. Such devotees were known as Miquelots. Modern pilgrims can follow the same routes. Ten hiking trails have been created that enable pilgrims from various European countries to retrace the path their ancestors may have taken during a medieval pilgrimage.[33]

In popular culture[edit]


Part of the action in Helen MacInnes's 1943 film thriller Assignment in Brittany takes place at the Mont, including a dramatic nighttime chase across the sands. In Peter Jackson's 2003 film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Gondor's capital city, Minas Tirith, is modelled on Mont-Saint-Michel.[34]

The site appears in the 2004 film Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers.

The town and castle in the 2010 Disney hit film Tangled are based on Mont-Saint-Michel.[35]

Terrence Malick's 2013 film To the Wonder features the abbey in its opening scenes.

Mindwalk is a 1990 feature film directed by Bernt Capra, adapted from his short story based on The Turning Point, a nonfiction book by physicist Fritjof Capra, his brother. Two friends, a poet and a politician, meet a physicist while exploring Mont-Saint-Michel, and engage in unexpectedly deep conversation.


The climax of the 2016 young adult novel The Inquisitor's Tale takes place in and around Mont-Saint-Michel, as the protagonists race over the causeway to the Abbey, pursued by the King's men.

Video Games[edit]

Mont-Saint-Michel is a World Wonder in Civilization VI.[36] Mont-Saint-Michel is featured in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege in which the abbey is overrun by demons in both the 16th and 21st centuries and subsequently destroyed.

A fictionalized version of the island, Beaumont-Saint-Denis, serves as the location for Sniper Elite 5's third mission.[37] The castle is also the inspiration for the site of the climactic final battle in the air combat video game The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, in which it is an abandoned enemy fortress with still-operational anti-air turrets; it also inspired Dark Souls' New Londo Ruins.[38]


Mont-Saint-Michel appears at the end of the opening credits of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, showing protagonists Daryl Dixon and Laurent looking out at it across zombie-infested tidelands. In "Deux Amours," it's revealed that Mont-Saint-Michel is the location of the Nest, their ultimate destination. In "Coming Home," Daryl's group finally reaches it.

The Mont-Saint-Michel–inspired village and castle from Tangled return in Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure and Tangled: Before Ever After.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Répertoire national des élus: les maires" (in French)., Plateforme ouverte des données publiques françaises. 13 September 2022.
  2. ^ "Populations légales 2021". The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. 28 December 2023.
  3. ^ With two hyphens and the French article "Le" ahead, because it is the name of a commune, not a hill.
  4. ^ By far, the most famous part of the commune, known as the "Mont Saint-Michel" or the "Mount Saint-Michel", with only one hyphen and the name "Mont" untied because it precisely means the hill, a geologic element, in this case, an island.
  5. ^ Institut géographique national (IGN) (ed.). "Commune of Le Mont-Saint-Michel's territory (scale 1:34110), the two mainland zones (enclaves) are visible, surrounded by a yellow line : one on the west of the Couesnon River is a relatively big one (387 ha), the other one on the east of the Couesnon River is a tiny one (6 ha)". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Communal limits : the three areas (two of them are on the mainland and the third one is the island itself) are each surrounded by an orange line". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  7. ^ Téléchargement du fichier d'ensemble des populations légales en 2019, INSEE
  8. ^ "Mont Saint-Michel". Archived from the original on 19 May 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay". UNESCO World Heritage List. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 13 December 2006. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  10. ^ Base Mérimée: Search for heritage in the commune, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)
  11. ^ a b Olive, Noemie (5 June 2023). "New dam saved France's Mont-Saint-Michel island status, Macron says". Reuters. Retrieved 8 August 2023. Macron said a new hydraulic dam project started in 1995 and completed in 2015 was now proving it is able to gradually flush sand out of the bay. "In just a few years, the silting up of the bay has been stopped and we have restored the possibility of an island," Macron said.
  12. ^ L'Homer, A.; et al. (1999). Notice explicative, Carte géologique de la France (1/50 000), feuille Baie du mont-Saint-Michel (208) (PDF) (in French). Orléans: BRGM. ISBN 2-7159-1208-0. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 October 2015.
  13. ^ "Carnets géologique de Philippe Glangeaud - Glossaire" (in French). Archived from the original on 14 November 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  14. ^ Chantal Bonnot-Courtois, La Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel et l'estuaire de la Rance: environnements sédimentaires, aménagements et évolution récente. Editor Technip. 2002. pages 15–20
  15. ^ "Official website of the restoring operation of the Mont Saint-Michel's maritime character". Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  16. ^ "Mont Saint-Michel reclaims its island status". rfi. November 2015.
  17. ^ Galimberti, Katy (31 March 2015). "Photos: Supertide Turns Mont Saint-Michel into Island in a Once in 18-Year Spectacle". AccuWeather. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015.
  18. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Mont-St-Michel". New Advent. 1 October 1911. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  19. ^ Allen, Richard, The Norman Episcopate, 989-1110, University of Glasgow, 2009, fig. 3, p. 14
  20. ^ James, David (6 October 2017). "10 Fascinating Facts About Mont Saint-Michel — the Medieval City on a Rock". 5-Minute History. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  21. ^ Hymel, Kevin (January 2021). "Freeing Mont Saint Michel". Warfare History Network.
  22. ^ "The Liberation of Mont-Saint-Michel". Beaches of Normandy Tours. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  23. ^ Adams, Henry (1913). Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres: A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 37–38.
  24. ^ Commune du Mont-Saint-Michel (50353), INSEE
  25. ^ Des villages de Cassini aux communes d'aujourd'hui: Commune data sheet 23871, EHESS (in French).
  26. ^ Population en historique depuis 1968, INSEE
  27. ^ a b "Mont Saint Michel facts". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  28. ^ Stille, Alexander (June 2014). "The Massive and Controversial Attempt to Preserve One of the World's Most Iconic Islands". Smithsonian Magazine.
  29. ^ "Le Mont-Saint-Michel – Jumelage" (in French). Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  30. ^ "Nishihiroshima Times". Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  31. ^ "Miyajima Grand Hotel Info". 16 May 2009. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  32. ^ Henderson, Charles (1925). Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Oscar Blackford. pp. 160–61.
  33. ^ "The ways of holy Michel mount". Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  34. ^ Morrison, Geoffrey (27 June 2014). "The real-life Minas Tirith from 'Lord of the Rings': A tour of Mont Saint-Michel". CNET.
  35. ^ a b "10 Real Life Locations That Inspired Disney Films". Buzzfeed. 20 October 2013. Archived from the original on 29 April 2017.
  36. ^ Parks, William (2 June 2020). "Civilization 6: Wonder Tier List". Game Rant. Retrieved 8 November 2023.
  37. ^ Mahardy, Mike (20 June 2022). "Sniper Elite 5 has one of the best sandbox missions I've ever played". Polygon. Retrieved 8 November 2023.
  38. ^ "Translation of the Design Works Interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki". Giant Bomb. 19 November 2012. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.

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