Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mont St Michel: A Dream Come Ture

For many years I have been fascinated by the beauty of Mont St Michel in Brittany.  It is such a magical looking place, surrounded by water and built on a rock.  
Also, besides how beautiful it looks, there has been something else pulling me there.  It was somewhere I felt I was meant to be. I am learning to listen to these kinds of intuitive messages. 
So, when I decided I was travelling and had booked my time at the writers retreat near Carcassonne for January 9th, I realized I could have Christmas and New Years with my family in England and also get to fit a trip to Brittany in before the retreat started.
The timing was perfect.
When I was searching for Bed and Breakfast places near Mont St Michel I noticed that Au Bon Accueil was run by an English couple and that they offered to pick up patrons from the train station and also drive them to Mont St Michel.  This was amazing.
After my one night in St Malo I boarded the train for Dol de Bretagne, and as  promised, Paul came and picked me up.   He took me through the pastoral countryside and I couldn't help but comment on how much mistletoe there was in the trees.
As we drove along he told me of a little of the history of the place and how he and his wife ended up having a bed and breakfast in France.
On Tuesady January 7th, 2014 the day finally arrived for my trip to Mont St Michel. We left early as Paul was dropping two other travellers off at the bus stop as they headed off to Rennes.
At Mont St Michel Paul explained about the shuttle buses that left every ten minutes to transport visitors over the causeway to the Mont, but told me that you could also walk if you chose to do so.  It would take around half an hour. 
First I had to walk past a few houses and past some shops and hotels at the entrance to the shoreline.  
As it was early the sky was beautiful as the sun rose.
Then I saw it in the distance, and I stood in awe.  I was really here, looking at this world heritage site, I was standing in France. I had to take time to absorb my reality.
This picturre was taken as I started walking down the causeway. I can feel my emotion just writing about it now.

To my right the sun was rising and I looked out over the flat delta and the silt that was posing such a problem to sustaining the integrity of Mont St Michel as an island. The glorious sunrise  expressed my feelings perfectly.

Behind this sign you can see the new bridge they have built.  In the fall of this year they will be ready to demolish the causeway I was walking on, and people will then access Mont St Michel via the bridge and it will once again be an island.
Here you can see the silt that has built up around the island.  There is a massive work plan being carried out to get the water circulating as it should, using the river and some kind of hydrolic system to recreate the old environment.
I loved the physical act of walking the long causeway out to Mont St Michel as it kept getting bigger and bigger the closer I got.  The anticipation of my arrival was part of the experience. I am so glad I chose to walk.
Here you can see I am getting closer.  Also the new bridge is visible in the background. 
At the base of the island there is a sort of fortress building.
It was a little confusing how to get into the site as there were workmen busy and scaffolding about.  
I gazed up in wonder at the buildings and spires above my head.  
As you can see, it is literally built on the rock, it seems to grow out of the stone.
The level of detailing is fantaastic to say it was built so long ago.
There was a temporary bridge to the entrance.
I had to take one more shot looking up from outside.
Then the gate was there.
As I approached it I felt the bits of stone chips on my face from the men sandblssting behind a tarp.  
You can just see the white tarp to the right. 
Remember to look up when entering Mont St Michel.  There is so much to see up above.

Once inside the gate I was greeted by the streets.  It was like walking into a fairy tale. 
I was so glad to have visited at this time of the year. The weather was really nice and there were hardly any people there. Had it been the summer there would have been a crush of people in these quiet streets.
Many of the shops weren't open as it was off season, but as I am not a shopper this did not impact me at all.

The beginnig of the stairs, lol.  Stairs, stairs and more stairs are to be expected as you climb up to the abbey at the top of this amazing place.

One of the first churches I came upon was this sanctuary. 
This statue of Joan of Arc moved me. 

So much is in the body language of this pose, and the facial expression.
Inside the little church was a beautiful window.
The towers were elegant yet formidable and we could walk on the battlements. The views were incredible.
Both looking down and looking up.

Here are the steps leading up to the Abbey.
This is where you can buy your ticket to tour inside the beautiful abbey at the top of Mont St Michel.  Also they have some information about the history of the place. 
After handing over your ticket you climb yet more stairs up to the abbey itself.
Out on the terrace the views are even more phenomenal and took my breath away.  Fortunately I had lots of time to stand and gaze out over the water and the flat lands surrounding Mont St Michel. I am learning to stop at times like these.  Just stop and breathe and take it all in.
The fact that men managed to build this structure once again amazed me.  All the stone was brought to the site from the surrounding islands.  It is a mind boggling accomplishment.
The entrance to the abbey is very grand.  
Once inside I was overcome with emotion.  I knew it would be an emotional experience for me, but I wasn't prepared for the impact this place would have on me.  There's the spiritual associations I feel, and the history of its religious community that are so deep.   Also I feel a strong connection to angels and this place was dedicated to the arch-angel Michael.
Also, I felt the presence of all those who laboured in the creation of this amazing abbey and its surrounding building on the granite rock.  It was a lot to take in.
As I have said, the abbey was awe inspiring.

Coming upon the cloisters was another emotional moment for me.  Visual impressions just kept piling up, one on top of the other,  An aesthetic overload. So when I was within the cloisters I stayed a while and walked. I quietly paced  around and around and inwardly chanted my mantras to myself.  It helped me to embody the experience.  

At one end of the cloisters was a window looking out over the view below that was an unexpected, words cannot describe its impact on my sensibilities.
I walked throught the rest of the chambers and rooms, one beautiful vision after another.
This was the refectory.

Paul, my host at the B and B had suggested that I attend the mass at noon.  It was a very special experience, he said. 
After walking through the abbey it was time to get a sticker allowing me to attend the mass.  I waited in the gathering place and found it strange to be all alone there. 
Eventually a nun came down and told me to go up the stairs and to the right.  She began talking to another woman who she knew, so i went up the steep starcase for the second time.
Once inside the abbey a monk was ringing the bell and I wondered where everyone was.
Soon I heard singing coming from a distance. I walked towards the sounds and saw a starcase leading down into a chapel in a crypt . There was a sign pointing the way to the mass.
I tiptoed down the stairs, and stood in the entrance by a bench as the small group of around fifteen nuns and monks of the religious community there were singing the service.  There were also around fifteen people attending the mass. 
The singing was so soft and beautiful with melodious harmonies.  Nuns played the recorder and plucked a stringed dulcimer at times.  It was very emotional and beautiful. Once again I found myself moved to tears. 
At the end of the service all the nuns and monks in attendance came up to each of us personally and held our hands and looked into our eyes with such love and peace. and compassion.  Once again, no words.
I left there in another world and walked slowly down the steps, descending the mountain with a sense of reverence and serenity.
I left feeling I had taken from this experience everything I needed.  I felt like lessons had been unknowingly learned.  I was content to leave and so grateful for having been, to have walked in the steps of so many before me.
As I left I marvelled once again at how it seems to grow out of the very rock of its foundations.
I gazed up at the statue of St Michel on the steeple.  
Turning I got a final look at this miraculous creation and the modern day workers who endeavour to maintain it for generations to come.
I took the shuttle bus back as I was pretty exhausted, both physically and emotionally form my day on Mont St Michel.  I watched it get smaller as we approached the mainland.
I just beat the rain, which began as the bus was driving me to my meeting place with Paul.  I took shelter in a cafe and had a cider as I waited. 
Paul came and collected me and two Australian girls who were also at Au Bon Accueil.  
He drove us home past the farmers fields and I looked forward to our supper out at the local pub, The Oyster Catcher.
But that is another story.

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