France’s beloved abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel has reached a ripe old age. It’s been 1,000 years since the laying of its first stone.
The millennial of the UNESCO World Heritage site and key Normandy tourism magnet is being celebrated until November with exhibits, dance shows and concerts. French President Emmanuel Macron is heading there on Monday.
Macron plans to deliver a speech and to see a new exhibit tracing the Romanesque abbey’s history via 30 objects and pieces, including a restored statue of Saint Michael.
Legend has it that the archangel Michael appeared in 708, duly instructing the bishop of nearby Avranches to build him a church on the rocky outcrop.
The exhibit, two years in the making, opened last month. It covers the complex process of building what is considered an architectural jewel on a rocky island linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway at high tide.
Four crypts were constructed on the granite tip along with a church on top. The exhibit explains how the original structure, built in 966, became too small for pilgrims, spurring on the builders to create the 11th century abbey that stands to this day.
France has spent more than $34 million over 15 years to restore the building, and the work is nearing completion. Authorities have also tried in recent years to protect the monument’s surrounding environment from the impact of mass tourism.
One of the most popular French destinations outside Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel island attracted 2.8 million visitors last year, including 1.3 million for the abbey. It was not closed to visitors for the presidential visit, but local authorities were taking measures for it to go as smoothly as possible.