Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mount Saint-Michel and the Bayeux Tapestry

From Chamonix Ann and I drove toward the Normandy coast stopping briefly in the Loire Valley on the way.  Not too far southwest of Paris, the valley is referred to as the Cradle of the French Language, and the Garden of France. It is rich in agricultural abundance and as a result has a long history and an accompanying architectural heritage.  In addition to the orchards and vineyards that line the river, there are hundreds of chateaux.  The early chateaux from the 10 century have the typical castle fortifications and many were constructed over the next 500 years.

 Next we spent a day at Mount Saint-Michel (Michael), located on a rocky outcrop off the Normandy coast.  A monastery was built on the site in the 8th century and gained strategic significance with subsequent struggles between England and France. 

Mont Saint-Michel

Replica of Michael the Archangel that sits atop the steeple
In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy (William the Conqueror)  in his claim and subsequent ascension to the throne of England.  During the Hundred Years War the English  made numerous attacks on the monastery, but were unable to seize it due to the abbey's  fortifications. 

Fortifications around the monastery

 The wealth and influence of the abbey began to fall around the time of the Reformation.  By the late 18th century at the time of the French Revolution only a few monks were left and it was converted into a prison.  Early in the nineteenth century, a campaign was launched to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was closed in 1863, and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874. 

Inside the Abbey

We enjoyed seeing the old abbey, but the restoration of the walled village attached to the monastery looks more like a Disney creation.  The narrow stone walkways are lined with tacky souvenir shops, ice cream parlors and restaurants.  I guess they need the revenue to help pay for the ongoing restoration?

Disneyland or Mt St Michel?

After visiting Saint Michel, we drove to Bayeux and visited the famous tapestry (actually and embroidered cloth) that depicts the events leading up to and then the Norman invasion of England in 1066.  The Bayeux Tapestry is over 200 feet long with about 50 scenes.  It tells the story of how William the Conqueror, leading a Norman army, defeats the King of England (Harold Godwinson) leading the Anglo Saxons at the Battle of Hastings.   

King Edward the Confessor, king of England and about sixty years old, had no children or any clear successor.  At that time, succession to the English throne was not according to the first born heir but was decided jointly by the king and some nobles.  After Edward dies, Harold is crowned king, but this is contested by William who thinks he should have been king and he builds a fleet to invade England and take over the throne.

The battle of Hastings was fought on October 14, 1066 less than three weeks after the English had fought the Norwegians 400 miles away at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  As we know, the Norman conquest of England had a huge impact on the history of that country and the rest of Europe.

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