Paris, June 6 (U.S.): The beloved abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel has come of age. It has been 1000 years since the first stone was laid.
The millennium anniversary of a UNESCO World Heritage site and major tourist magnet in Normandy is celebrated through November with exhibitions, dance performances and concerts. And now a presidential visit.
French President Emmanuel Macron went there on Monday and gave a speech calling on the French to “push themselves harder” on global and existential challenges like climate change. He drew a comparison with the monastery, which has held strong over time and embodies the “French spirit” of “steadfastness” and “resistance”. It was a veiled speech, coming a day before another outcry over a contested pension reform law that was passed.
Since former President François Mitterrand in 1983, France’s leaders have flocked to this symbolically important site to send political messages. In 2007, former President Nicolas Sarkozy launched his presidential campaign there, the Associated Press reports.
Macron’s presidential advisers said of the visit that the “walls and eternity of the mountain” seem to bear the “concepts of resistance and resilience” related to the D-Day landings being celebrated this week in the same region.
Macron also visited a new exhibition that traces the history of the Romanesque monastery through 30 objects and pieces, including the restored statue of Saint Michael. Legend has it that Archangel Michael appeared in 708, and duly ordered the bishop of nearby Avanes to build a church for him on a rocky outcrop.
The exhibition, which took two years to prepare, opened last month. It covers the intricate process of building what is considered an architectural gem on a rocky island linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway at high tide.
Four cellars are built on top of the granite with a chapel on top. The exhibition explains how the original structure, built in 966, became too small for pilgrims, prompting builders to create an 11th-century monastery that stands to this day.
France has spent more than 32 million euros ($34 million) over 15 years to restore the building, and the work is nearing completion. The authorities have also tried in recent years to protect the environment around the monument from the impact of mass tourism.
One of France’s most popular destinations outside of Paris, the island of Mont-Saint-Michel attracted 2.8 million visitors last year, including 1.3 million for the abbey. It is not closed to visitors for the presidential visit, but the local authorities are taking measures to make it run as smoothly as possible.