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Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey: the monks' ancient Refectory.
© Colombe Clier / Centre des monuments nationaux

Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel - The Wonder

Referred to as 'The Wonder of the Western World', the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is a magnificent example of gothic architecture from the early 13th century.

The 13th century was a time of great intellectual, artistic and economic activity, resulting in many major building programmes all over the Western world. From 1204, Normandy was attached to the Kingdom of France, and therefore benefited from the attention and protection of the Kings of France. The Merveille—the part of the abbey where the monks lived—was built during this period, on the Northern side of the rock. The Merveille, which means 'The Wonder', is a splendid illustration of the spirit of Gothic art that was popular throughout Western Europe at this time. Its bold architecture consists of 3 layered levels, culminating in a height of 35m, supported by sixteen powerful buttresses.

© Rene Jacques / Centre des Monuments Nationaux
© Rene Jacques / Centre des Monuments Nationaux

The construction work lasted for 17 years, under four successive abbots. Each floor was organised according to different functions, either public or monastic. On the ground floor, the cellar for storing food and the chaplaincy for welcoming pilgrims; on the second floor, the dining hall with its imposing fireplaces, reserved for special guests, and the so-called "knights" room, the former scriptorium. The final level contained the cloisters and the monks' refectory.

The "knights" room was also called the scriptorium. For a long time the scriptorium was thought to have been the place where manuscripts were produced and illuminated. However, it would seem that it was in fact used for reading and studying.

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Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel - The Wonder