History of Mont Saint Michel from 1200 to 1400

Mont Saint Michel

To the end of the XII century, the Abbey was not damaged by fires caused by men or by lightning; but the conflagration of 1203 was terrible. Gui de Thouars unable to take the Mont Saint-Michel set the houses of the town on fire; the flames reached the building and every part was burnt down, except the church, the walls, and the vaults.

The charm of the Merveille

The abbots, successors of Robert de Torigni, followed his example not only by raising up again and maintaining the church and the Abbey, but, be it said to their praise, by building the magnificent edifices of the north, named from the beginning of the Merveille and which were all constructed at one time, thanks to the liberality of Philippe Auguste. 

The Merveille was begun in 1203 by Jourdain XVII abbot, 1191 to 1212; he built the room of the Almonry, the Cellar, and began the Refectory above the Almonry which Raoul des Isles finished from 1212 to 1218.

Thomas des Chambres completed the room of the Chevaliers and the lateral gallery giving more space for walking. He made also at that epoch the Dormitory over the Refectory and finished it before his death which took place in 1225. He also began the cloister which was finished by Raoul de Villedieu in 1228.

This abbot modified the north front of the transept of the romanesque church and established at its base the Lavatorinm, in the south Gallery of the Cloister. He built too the lateral portal which opens towards the southern platform — called the Saut-Gaultier — as well as the chapel Saint-Etienne on the south of the romanesque foundations, near the hostelry built by Robert de Torigni. 

Fortifications of Mont Saint Michel, protect the castle!

Up to that time, Mont Saint-Michel had no real fortifications. The Abbey and the houses grouped at its foot were only protected by stone walls or by palisades. Jourdain and his successors began the defensive works on the north at the same time as the Merveille. Richard Tustin, 21st abbot (1236 to 1264) continued their work.

He built the large building, on the east of the church, named Belle-Chaise and the Residence of the Abbot on the south, or at least he began it; he ordered the fortified tower to be erected which surrounded and rose above the fountain Saint-Aubert and joined this tower to the roads by a staircase closed by embattled walls. Thanks to Saint-Louis’s generosity, when this king went as a pilgrim to Mont-Saint-Michel, about 1250, this abbot was enabled to increase the fortifications of the place, and to order the tower of the North to be built, ensuring the defense of the Abbey, the entrance of which he had restored. At last, about 1260, he began, on the western gallery of the Cloister, the chapter house, the door alone of which was finished. 

Mont Saint Michel destroyed again

In the fourteenth century, the fires which brought such ruin to Mont Saint-Michel began again. In July of 1300, the lightning struck the steeple of the church and ruined it entirely, as well as the high towers erected by Robert de Torigni. The bells were melted: the roofs of the church and of several buildings were burnt and the flames spread by a strong wind, communicated the fire to the town which was almost entirely destroyed, Guillaume du Château, 25th abbot, from 1299 to 1344 helped by the generosity of the pilgrims, repaired the disasters and, thanks to the liberality of king Philippe-le-Bel after a pilgrimage to the mount, he rebuilt the houses of the town and the warehouses of the Abbey, called the Fanils, at the foot of the rock on the southwest. He continued the ramparts commenced by Richard Turtin, and appointed the attendant Pierre de Toufou the guardian of the door of the town. During the time of Jean de la Porte (twenty-sixth abbot, from 1314 to 1334), Mont Saint-Michel without garrison until that time, became an important fortress was and held for the king of France. 

In 1350, the lightning again struck the church and set fire to the Abbey. Nicolas le Vitrier (1335 to 1362), quickly repaired the damages and kept the ramparts in order, in spite of the continual threats of the English who ravaged at that time the coasts of Normandy; he was the first of the abbots at the same time military and religious governor of the town and of the Abbey, appointed by Charles V who was then the only duke of Normandy. 

One of the most beautiful monasteries in France

After the death of Nicolas le Vitrier, Geoffroy de Servon, 27th regular abbot, succeeded to his place and dignity and obtained from king Charles V, in 1364 and 1365, the right to order arms to be given up by every person other than the king and his brothers, entering the Abbey. He ordered numerous works to be done in the church, dormitories, and other buildings of this monastery, which, on the 8th of July 1374, were burnt by lightning as well as the whole city. 

Pierre le Roy, 29th abbot, who succeeded to Geoffroy de Servon, was one of the most celebrated abbots of the Mont Saint-Michel, and with Roger II, Robert de Torigny, Jourdain, regular abbots, and Guillaume d’Estouville, first commendatory abbot, one of the greatest builders and restorers of the Abbey. He rebuilt the top of the tower, so-called — of the Gorbins, — at the south-east angle and the Merveille — restored and recovered the abbatial buildings, on the south of the church, commenced by Richard Tustin about 1260, continued by his successors and in part ruined by the fire of 1374, He completed the defenses of the east by erecting the Perrine tower about the end of the fourteenth century. On the north of Belle-Chaise, he built, in the first years of the fifteenth century, the Châtelet and the small curtain which joins it to the Merveille. In order to cover the Chàtelet, he made the Barbican which surrounds it and also the large flight of steps on the north and modified the ramparts on the north and on the west.

King Charles VI, during a pilgrimage to Mont Saint-Michel, in 1393 confirmed Pierre le Roy in his office of captain of Mont Saint-Michel. Pierre le Roy is the first of the regular abbots who ordered his armorial bearings to be placed on the walls of the Abbey; his coat of arms adorned the chairs or the stalls of the chancel which were restored by his order in 1389.

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