Restoring Sea and Romance to a French Treasure

Author: Steve Erlanger [NY Times]

MONT-ST.-MICHEL, France — A dispatch in The New York Times in August 1944 described the view of Mont-St.-Michel that American soldiers saw, “racing their tanks across the Norman hills into Avranches.” Built “for war as well as worship,” the writer noted, the Mont “seems to float on the sea as gracefully as a ship under full sail, catching all the changing colors of the clouds.”

But in the years since then, the sea has dumped tons of silt around the island, slowly attaching it to the land. The main culprit appears to be a solid causeway, built in 1879, that linked the monastery to the mainland but disrupted the movement of the waters. The problem was worsened in 1969, when the government built a dam on the Couesnon River to protect farmlands from high tide, but one result was to further reduce the power of the river to push the silt back into the sea.

For Henry Adams, writing at the start of the 20th century, the Roman Catholic churches at Mont-St.-Michel and Chartres were the sublime symbols of a medieval unity of vision, founded on God, which he contrasted to the industrialized confusion of his time. Those churches, he wrote, expressed “an emotion, the deepest man ever felt — the struggle of his own littleness to grasp the infinite.” 

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