Liste des sites de l'Avranchin et du Mortainais

Photo DRAC de Basse-Normandie Mont-Saint-Michel
(canton de Pontorson, Manche)

The Abbey Church

      In the 11th century, the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel built an abbey church large enough both for a community, which comprised at that time about fifty members, and for the many pilgrims who visited to pray to the Archangel. Wishing to establish this church on the top of the rock, the monks had to take account of the slope by building several crypts which were used as foundations for the choir and transepts; in order to support the end of the nave they were content to reinforce and extend the church of Notre-Dame-sous-Terre towards the west.

Photo Daniel Chenot. CMN
Only a part of this Romanesque church survives. As the choir collapsed in 1421 it was rebuilt in a flamboyant gothic style after the Hundred Years war. The transept, however, retained its two Romanesque crypts. The St Martin crypt, which is the support for the south transept, is covered with an impressive fully arched tunnel vault, reinforced at the centre with a vigorous double arch. No decorative feature interrupts the powerful upward thrust of the round arches of its small eastern apse. Notre-Dame-des-Trente-Cierges, a crypt located under the north transept, underwent a number of reconstructions during the 13th century; it is rib-vaulted either side of a central double arch which retains some vestiges of a painted decoration from the gothic era.

The crossing was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century, like the tower and elegant steeple that tops it. However, the two transepts and their small eastern apses are still Romanesque. Each transept is covered with a vault with round arches, established on an axis perpendicular to that of the vaulting of the crypts. The former are supported by powerful relieving arches which reinforce the walls. The decoration which is fairly meticulous, consists of multiple arches, which are in some cases moulded, and colonettes, some of which have retained their original, finely sculpted capitals.

The nave now has no more than four of its seven bays; the first three were demolished in 1776, at the same time as the Romanesque facade. In addition, only the south side is still 11th century; the north side collapsed in 1103 and was rebuilt in c. 1135. On both sides, the walls are perfectly articulated; the vertical division into bays is punctuated by half columns rising from the base up to the main beams of the timber-framed roof. The three level elevation is clearly delineated by bands of stone that run the length of the walls. Finally, the two sides of the nave are different. In particular, the north wall does not have the relieving arches which are linked together along the entire length of each bay of the south wall, thus repeating above the upper windows, the powerful impression of movement created by the great arcades.

Henry Decaëns


- Nortier (Michel). - Millénaire monastique du Mont Saint-Michel, tome IV : bibliographie générale et sources, 2e éd. par Henry Decaëns, Lethielleux,2001, p. 167-170