It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island I cannot even distinguish. The mist is hiding the goal of our pilgrimage, one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites of my time, the marvel dedicated to the archangel Michael, the leader of the army of God against the forces of the devil. In this year 1334, I came all this way to pray for the salvation of my soul at the Mont Saint Michel.
Walking along the coast, we notice a fisherman bringing back a splendid salmon he caught at sea with his racket. After a brief talk, he agrees on walking us across the bay, as soon as the water has retreated enough. Taking some strength, while we are waiting, the mist slowly vanishes and at last, I see the holy rock everyone is talking about all across the kingdom. Many have undertaken this dangerous pilgrimage, just as we have, carried by our faith. This vision of the island gives me the last bit of courage I need to reach this abbey, dedicated to the champion of all angels, the one who will weigh my soul to open the kingdom of God for me. There, I will pray to Saint Michael to wash away my sins.
The tall and strong fisherman comes towards us. It is time to go. We jump on our feet as we know that timing is critical. About 4 kilometres away, we can see the island of Tombelaine with its small chapel. We must reach it before the sea catches up on us as fast as a galloping horse. As the sun slowly sets, I feel my feet slip and sink slightly into the fine sediments. Even if it is early May, after a few hundred meters, my bare feet are numb because of the cold. And this is nothing compared to the cold I feel on my legs during our first river crossing. We have to fight the currents to keep following our fisherman closely. Quicksand can be deadly, especially the one I feel underneath my feet in the river: we must not stop. If being swallowed is just a myth, being stuck in them while the water rises makes drowning a real danger.
After several hours, we eventually reach Tombelaine. The Mont Saint Michel is only 3 kilometres away. I understand why everyone is talking about it. I see the silhouette of the abbey against the orange sky at sunset and its reflection in the puddles of sea water on the wet sand. Only faith could have allowed builders to construct such a marvel on top of this high and pointy rock set between sea and sand.
We are so excited that we have a hard time sleeping. Despite our exhausting trip, I cannot wait for the sun to rise. I hope that God will have mercy on us and allow us to cross this last stretch safely. Seeing the bright blue skies of the early morning, I am reassured. There are many robberies as every pilgrim comes with gifts for the archangel and it is much safer to cross in clear weather. The sun is powerful and the water in the rivers feels slightly warmer than last night. A mullet fish bumps into my leg as I seem to be on its way back down to the sea. Seagulls laugh at us from the sky. A few beautiful shelducks with their red beaks are fishing for small shrimps. More towards the sea side, I see a glimpse of a seal. Getting closer to the Mont, a few villagers are shore-fishing for clams, mussels, shrimps or lobsters for the monks.
The fisherman leaves us at the foot of the rock. After paying him, we start climbing up the 350 steps through the fortified village, leading to the church of Saint Michael. Right before entering it on my knees, I take in the 360• view on the bay we have just crossed. Far, I see the tidal bore coming in, announcing the high tide. The view on the large bay is simply stunning. I can distinguish the many rivers we crossed, Tombelaine and the village we started from. Some other groups of pilgrims are rushing to arrive before the sea completely surrounds the Mont.
We fall onto our knees and led by a monk, we make our way into the abbatial church. Its architecture is breath-taking. Its walls are painted in warm colours. The sun rays pierce through the delicate stain glass windows describing how Saint Michael chased the beast from the sky onto the Earth.
We made it. After weeks of traveling, after risking our lives crossing this beautiful yet dangerous bay, we eventually made it to the Mont Saint Michel!…
The church bells wake me up from my daydream as I sit in the heart of the abbey church of the Mont Saint Michel. After being one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites from the 8th until the 18th century, today it is one of the three most visited sites of France and one of the most remarkable examples of fortified medieval religious architecture that I’m about to discover…
Marcella & Claire
- The Mont Saint Michel is one of the three most visited sites of France with about 2.5-million visitors per year, so arrive early and try to spend a night on the Mont to enjoy it when crowds leave the island.
- The visit of the abbey is a must. Plan 1:30 to 2:00 hours to tour the site and discover its unbelievable architecture. Very knowledgeable and interesting guides offer free tours with your entrance ticket in various languages, and this is a great opportunity to learn about the history of the Mont Saint Michel.
- Specific visits and concerts are scheduled all year round. Check the program before planning your trip.
- Hiking the bay is a fantastic experience and only a fraction of the visitors do so. Life-threatening during the Middle Ages, it is completely safe today with a certified guide of the bay. It allows you to have stunning views on the Mont and to enjoy the nature of one the most beautiful bays of the world. Make sure to pack a few essentials: basically cover your upper body with warm cloths and wear shorts. A towel and suntan lotion may come in handy. Guides will tell you all about what you need to bring.
- We recommend you to favour guides going with smaller groups to make your experience more special. More specifically, Les Guides Nature do a great job, working with a small network of guides, each with his own specificity from flora and fauna, to the history of the area or a more sporty approach.
- The bay and the Mont Saint Michel were the first sites in France added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1979.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!