Thursday, July 6, 2017

Normandy/Brittany Journal: Mont Saint-Michel

photograph by Hallie Cohen
Along with Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela, Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most popular destinations for Christian Pilgrimages. It is to Christianity what the Hajj is for Muslims. Added to this, it's one of those feats of architecture that defies both time  and history and seems to ascend the heights of divinity as it defies gravity. In a way it seems to challenge God while also being a symbol of faith. You might call it an ecclesiastical skyscraper, that's as much a testament to human willfulness as it is to God’s divinity. It was originally built by the Benedictines and it went through many incarnations, from its beginnings in the l0th century, to its destruction in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the years in which it was actually used as a prison, a kind of heavenly version of Devil’s island. If you visit Mont Saint-Michel you'll be able see how inmates walked within a wheel in order to ferry supplies up a trolley. Today, Mont Saint-Michel has been returned to its original spiritual status, although the rows of souvenir shops in the town below which are reminiscent of other cynosures like Assisi and Angkor Wat are a testament to the earthbound nature of the spiritual life in the 21st Century. Now in the place of its original Benedictine founders, it’s manned by the Monastic Order of Jerusalem and amongst the nuns are a former broker, architect and medical doctor—who have given up the pleasures and trials of the real world to devote their lives to God.

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