Before becoming the Mont Saint-Michel, the famous granite rock was called the Mont Tombe, probably because it was shaped like a Roman tumulus or tomb.
Historical sources indicate that the first buildings on the islet date back to the 6th century. Construction of the Mont is said to have begun in 708.
According to legend, during the reign of King Childebert III (695-711), the Archangel Michael appeared in a dream to Aubert, bishop of Avranches, to order him to build a shrine in his honor. But to convince Saint Aubert, it took three apparitions from the archangel Michael. On the third appearance, the latter did not hesitate to leave his finger mark on his forehead, even piercing his skull, as can be seen at the Saint-Gervais basilica in Avranches where it is on display. Aubert realized that this was no dream! He did indeed have a divine mission to accomplish: to build an oratory in honor of Saint-Michel.
From then on, the rock was gradually dubbed Mont-Saint-Michel-au-péril-de-la-Mer. Despite the islet’s location, the shifting sands and threatening tides that surround it, pilgrims soon flock to this new spiritual place, where a dozen churchmen officiate. What’s more, the population of the surrounding area came here to seek refuge from Viking raids. A village then developed on the rock and the church grew.
From 966, Richard I of Normandy (943-996) permanently installed a community of Benedictine monks here – the latter remained on the Mont until 2001. The abbey church was erected on the tip of the rock in 1023.
As the centuries passed, the abbey, on the borders of the duchy of Normandy, had to fortify itself. During the Hundred Years’ War, the royal army even moved in to prevent an English invasion. At the same time, the abbey expanded, and its famous “merveille” (the monastic living building of Gothic architecture) was built in the first half of the 13th century. The construction of the abbey, which continued from the 11th to the 16th century, adapting to a very difficult natural site, was a technical and artistic tour de force.
For a time left abandoned – and even partly transformed into a state prison – the monument was restored at the end of the 19th century, with the addition of a spire raising the Mont to 157.10 meters.