Mont-Saint-Michel

Once again this magical place call it self an island again, the holy mount that has been one of Europe’s major pilgrim destinations, one of France’s most recognizable landmarks and one of UNESCOs world heritage site has had undergone a facelift. A major campaign has ensured that the Mont-Saint-Michel preserves its maritime character and remain an island.

Mont Saint Michel, Medieval, analizagonzales.com, Normandy, France

It was a dream come true when I visited this island, this was a place I have only previously seen in movies, on tv or seen and read about in books. I have been fascinated about its location, its history and architecture and now I finally got to see it.

Since ancient times this place has held a strategic fortification and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name.

Steep and narrow streets, buildings clinging to the rocks surface describes this place, the architectural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers. The buildings that went up along the steep village street, is now converted into museums, hotels, restaurants and boutiques for today’s tourists.

I wanted to visit one of these converted places, La Mère Poulard, as a foodie this place was a must visit. You can read about what happened HERE

Mont Saint Michel, Medieval, analizagonzales.com, Normandy, France

Situated only 600 meters from the mainland, made this place accessible tho the countless of pilgrims that has visited this islands abbey throughout history, at the same time this place was defensible as incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned, would-be assailants.

The Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel is subject to the largest tidal range in Europe during spring tides. The waters can withdraw as far as 25km from the shore. After low tide, the local saying goes that the seawater rush back in to the bay ‘at the pace of a galloping horse’. The waters come in fast, so if you do not have local knowledge of the area and the tide, do not venture out on the sand.

  1. The rising tide might get you.

2. Quicksand surrounding the mount might get you.

Mont Saint Michel, Medieval, analizagonzales.com, Normandy, France

For centuries this island was a place of God and learning. The Mont even remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War, when a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433. Unfortunately the benefits of its natural defence were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. After that the abbey was used as a jail during the Ancien Régime.

From a great distance the island silhouette draws your eyes towards it and as you get closer it looms in the distance. I can imagine the excitement of the pilgrims as they got closer, closer to their God and absolution. I can also imagine the prisoners that saw their future home in a distance, dark, barren and gloomy.

The staggering location has long inspired awe and the imagination. The story of how the mount turned into a great place of Christian pilgrimage is colourful. Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches early in the 8th century, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea.

The Bay that Mont Saint-Michel is situated has been prone to silting up in the last couple of centuries. Farming and the building of a causeway to the island did not help the problem. A major campaign and massive work has ensured that the Mont-Saint-Michel preserves its maritime character and remains an island. The Couesnon river that flows into the bay, is ow being left to flow freely so that sediments are washed out to sea.

For more information on this project, please click here

To lighten the load of the sediment build up a new causeway has been built, the car park relocated from the shoreline. The new car parks is about 1,5 miles away from the island. In order to get to the island you have to take a shuttle bus that take you from the mainland to the mount. These busses operate daily, at very regular intervals, from 7.30am to midnight. Other alternatives is to take a stroll or you can book a special horse-drawn carriage.

Experience medieval Normandy digitally

The Jumiège abbey, Normandy, Normandie, Medieval, Church ruins, Ruiner, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

The most beautiful ruins in all of France according to Victor Hugo, Château de Falaise and the archbishop’s palace in Rouen has more than the middle ages in common. Have you ever wondered how ruins and historical sites might have looked like at the high of their glory days? These three places mentioned have been brought to the 20th century digitally.

The Jumiège abbey

Rumors has it that Victor Hugo called these ruins for the most beautiful ruins in all of France. The original monastery was founded in 654 by saint Philibert who became the first abbot, but it is not site’s old age that has made it in to ruins.

The place was the religious center of the area and under saint Philibert successor there were nearly a thousand monks living in the monastery. Unfortunately some “Scandinavians” plundered and burned the place to the ground in the ninth century, but it was rebuilt larger and grander by William I Longsword the son of Rollo the viking, Duke of Normandy. In 1067 a new church was consecrated in the presence of William the Conqueror  and since then the monastery has had the patronage of the dukes of Normandy. The abbey became a great centre of religion and learning, its schools producing, scholars, bishops, archbishops and cardinals. The church went through an expansion in 1256, and again restored in 1573.

The Jumiège abbey, Normandy, Normandie, Medieval, Church ruins, Ruiner, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

Walking through the monastery ruins today you get glimpses of the grandeur of its heydays and with an iPad in tow you get to see how archeologists and historians belive it might have looked like when the place was bustling with life.

The Jumiège abbey, Normandy, Normandie, Medieval, Church ruins, Ruiner, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

The iPad’s are linked to four different spots on the monastery grounds and by standing on them and holding up the iPad’s you will see a digital reconstruction and animation of the place. Click HERE to see the animation on their webpage. SAMSUNG CSC

It was not untill the french revolution that the monastery was abandoned and made into a quarry, the stones sold off as building materials. A gallery of the cloister was bought by Lord Stuart de Rothesay to rebuild it in Highcliffe Castle near Bournemouth, Dorset.

The Jumiège abbey, Normandy, Normandie, Medieval, Church ruins, Ruiner, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

FALAISE

Château de Falaise in Falaise in Calvados, Normandy, Normandie, Medieval, Castel ruins, Ruiner, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

Château de Falaise in Falaise in Calvados, overlooks the town from a high crag, it was formerly the seat of the Dukes of Normandy. Around the Year One Thousand, the dukes’ fortress is particularly effective and protected a vast domain. It is built on the model “motte and Bailey” principle, a fortress atop a mound and protected by solid walls and ramparts.SAMSUNG CSC

At this historic site they have also made use of digital technology. Here as at the monastery of Jumièges you also get an iPad to take along for your tour around the castle, so you can see and get a feeling of how it might have been. If you walk around take a look at the some of the original masonry sometimes you can find graffiti carved in into the stones from when the soldiers was bored, some vulgar and some as innocent as tic, tac, toe.

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Possession of the castle changed sides many times  during the 100 year war, it went from french hands to english, then french again and back to english and so on, by the 17th century the castle was deserted.

As early as the 1840s  Château de Falaise has been recognised as a Monument Historique by the French Ministry of Culture. A programme of restoration was carried out as early as in between the years of 1870 and 1874.

In modern times Château de Falaise and Falaise got bombarded by allied forces during the second world war in what is known as the Falaise pocket. 2/3 of the town was destroyed and taken by a combined force of Canadian and Polish troops. Luckily the keeps of the château were unscathed and Falaise has largely been restored after the war.

Rouen

Joan of Arc History Museum, Normandy, Rouen, Normandie, Medieval, Middelalder, analizagonzales.com

On March 21st 2015, just a stone throw from the dungeon she was imprisoned, the highly anticipated Joan of Arc History Museum, located in the former archbishop’s palace opened its door. Visitors are transported back to the middle ages through state-of-the-art technology, immersive exhibition space with comprehensive historical content that enables you to explore the myth and legend of France’s national heroine. Joan of Arc History Museum, Normandy, Rouen, Normandie, Medieval, Middelalder, analizagonzales.comA team of internationally renowned historians, museum specialists and design agencies started this project of constructing and renovating the archbishop’s palace in 2013.  A film production company has worked with local actors and Rouen Opera’s costume department, to create fictional documentaries that will form part of the visitor experience. One stand-out aspect of the new museum casts tourists as witnesses to Joan of Arc’s trials.

 

I originally posted this in norwegian on Feelgoods online magazine

Mère Poullard omelette

On the island of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy there is a little restaurant called La Mère Poulard, a place that serve lofty and fluffy omelets.

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Anne Poulard and her husband Victor founded the Hostellerie de la Tête d’Or, but found that their customers came and went as quickly as the tide as most of them where pilgrims visiting the church on top of the rock. They came up with the idea of cooking giant omelets in their wooden hearth to entice the visitors to stay.

The restaurant founded in 1879 has since then become quite famous for their egg dish, they are several inches thick, beaten in hand-hammered copper bowls, and cooked over an open fire.  The omelets resemble a soufflé more than a traditional one. In the early days when catering to the pilgrims the omelets were free, but when I was there in May 2015 a 250 gram omelette cost €49 and if you wanted the decadent one with lobster and truffle potatoes the price was €79.

To my dismay I was not able to sample this dish on my visit to the island. I was on a guided tour and managed to sneak away 20 minutes earlier and thought I had enough time to get a taste of this omelette. I ran from the cathedral as if I had stolen the Holy Grail it self turning a few heads as I passed, but alas the restaurant did not open until 11:30 and I had to meet up with the rest of the group at 11:20 for departure.

When I got home from my trip I googled and this is my interpretation of the omelette, but since  I made it on a conventional oven it probably did not taste the same as the one the pilgrims got, I imagine the omelette having a light smokey flavour since it is cooked over burning wood on a open hearth.

For this fluffy omelette i used

3 eggs

2 tbs creme fraishe

salt og pepper

oil and a little butter for cooking

Beat the eggs until pale and fluffy, fold in the creme fraishe, salt and pepper.

Pour the eggs into a preheated pan with a little oil and lett it cook gently on medium to low heat for about 5 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes .
Put the pan back on the heat and gently lift it up and add some butter to give it a little crisper crust. Let the omelette cook for about 5 more minutes on medium to low heat, you do not want it to be cooked all the way to the top.
Slide the omelette on to a serving plate and fold.
Bon Appetitte.