Mont Saint-Michel: A Magical Marvel with Alexander Wilson

Mont Saint-Michel: A Magical Marvel with Alexander Wilson


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The Mont Saint-Michel is a uniquely, mystically magical place in so many ways: geographical, historical, architectural, artistic, and spiritual. This interactive seminar looks to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site in all its glory as we discuss everything from its bizarre location, to its long history to its relationship with Benedictine monks. We’re lucky that so much of the site still exists to this day, allowing for the visitor (virtual or not) to explore the site in great depth in the company of an expert.

Set upon a rocky islet in a huge and hugely tidal bay, it's no wonder it the Mont Saint-Michel captivates onlookers. We’ll learn about the tides: at low tide, the sandbanks stretch as far as the eye can see; but with the high spring tides, the sea level can rise to 15 meters and surround the island. Perched atop a rocky outcropping in the bay separating Brittany from Normandy, the Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most spectacular landmarks in France. At the top is the ‘Wonder of the West’, a Benedictine abbey dedicated to the Archangel St Michael and built between the 11th and 16th centuries. We’ll discuss the mind-boggling constructions of the original Romanesque church and then the sublime Gothic additions. Indeed, it is the grace and gravity-defying nature of the thirteenth-century body of conventional buildings that gave rise, quite understandably, to the Abbey being known as the ‘Merveille’ (or ‘Marvel’).

We’ll explore the history of the visitors to this breathtaking site: from the outset, it was pilgrims who made the treacherous crossing and flocked to the Mont. A village grew up at the foot of the abbey and of course needed to be defended against aggressors, not least the English during the Hundred Years War. We’ll learn about the impregnable ramparts which were intended to defend against any enemies.

Led by Alex Wilson, local guide and historian who lives in Normandy, this Context Conversation cannot pretend to rival the unforgettable experience of a visit to Mont Saint-Michel in person. But it will, hopefully, give the participants a very solid taster.

Alex Wilson, a History First from Oxford, has been living and working in France for 35 years. After running his own publishing company, he has been guiding in Normandy (and for Context) for the last ten years. While his interests extend from William the Conqueror through to the post-War reconstruction, his main focus is on WW2 and the Battle of Normandy.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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