Construction of the Mont Saint Michel from 1600 to 1900.

Remparts of Mont Saint Michel

In 1615, Henri de Lorraine, at the age of five years, was named by Louis XIII the seventh commendataire. His father Charles de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, ordered repairs in the Abbey to be made in 1616 and, in 1618, in order to strengthen the western part of the buildings erected at the end of the twelfth century, by Robert de Torigni, he ordered a buttress to be made, which cost 14.000 pounds; on the top of this buttress, one can still see an escutcheon with Lorraine’s arms.

During these troubled times, we remark a great relaxation in the customs of the monks; in 1622 the confusion seemed insufferable, and on the 27th October of 1622 they were succeeded by the Benedictine monks of the congregation of Saint-Maur. 

The new inhabitants of Mont Saint-Michel kept the buildings from going to ruin but they do not seem to have taken any great care to keep them intact. In 1627, they built a windmill on the bastion Gabriel and made many interior changes. Many marks of their dissensions are unfortunately visible and but few of their works are to be found now. 

In 1629, D. de Fiesque, the agent of the duke of Lorraine divided in two the magnificent room of the Dormitory and under the pretext of increasing the light of the cells, sapped the interior slayings of the windows by cutting the small columns of the arches that adorn the walls. 

Jacques de Souvré and the sir de la Chastière had obtained from Louis XIV the permission that the guard of the castle and its government should be entrusted to the Abbot. The garrison consisted of only four or five soldiers. Louis XV took one part of the Abbey and confined prisoners in the dungeons; there were eighteen in 1776. In 1745, Victor de la Castagne, better known by the name of Dubourg, was shut up in the cage built, it is said, by Louis XI to imprison the famous cardinal La Ballue. This celebrated cage, called iron-cage, though it was of wood, was destroyed in 1777 by the Comte d’Artois (Charles X) during his visit to Mont Saint-Michel. 

The romanesque portal of Robert de Torigni had as a substitute a front in the style of that epoch: called Jésuites style.

In 1776 after a fire by lightning, the portal of the church was split and threatened ruin; four of the seven arcades of the nave were destroyed and the romanesque portal of Robert de Torigni had as a substitute a front in the style of that epoch: called Jésuites style. In 1710 the monks were dispersed and the whole Abbey was transformed into a prison in which the Revolution crammed three hundred priests of the dioceses of Avranches, Goutances, and Rennes. 

In 1811 Napoleon the First converted Mont Saint-Michel into a prison, and Louis XVIII made it a central prison and house of correction. Since those sad times, the works which have been done have only been of profane character. 

The Prison

The old Hostelry — built by Robert de Torigni — which had become a prison for women, collapsed in 1817 and thickened for a long time to drag with it the ruin of the southwest part of the building. The magnificent halls of the Merveille were divided into floors in which were huddled the prisoners and their looms. The church itself suffered the most profane transformations; the chancel was alone spared and kept its altar, which saved this part of the church from the ravages of the fire in 1834, which wrought the greatest damages in the romanesque nave. This was the thirteenth fire since the foundation of the Abbey. Restorations were undertaken from 1838 to 1850: three pillars in the south part were restored, but they have not the romanesque character of the other pillars of the nave which they tried to imitate. The other burnt parts were hidden from sight; the damages caused on the columns, walls, and burnt arches have been concealed with plaster and recovered by a layer of mortar in simili-granit -, cornices in peculiar styles have been made with the same stuff. These repairs are not sufficient and are chiefly dangerous because these replasterings, dissembling the disorders which have taken place in these constructions will prevent people from seeing the danger of their situation, and therefore they will not remedy it in good time. The romanesque nave has been covered by a modern wood and plaster vault, the forms of which call to mind pretty nearly the works of the twelfth century; it is also in a very bad state. 

The prison was suppressed

A decree dated the 20th of October 1863 suppressed the prison and the Minister of the interior abandoned Mont Saint-Michel which became the property of an estate. In 1865 the Abbey with its dependencies was let for nine years to the bishop of Coutances and Avranches, who ordered partitions and planks to be made dividing into work-shops the floors of the Merveille, the abbatial Logis, and the church; he cleaned and drained the buildings and he ordered some repairs to be made with the annual help of 20.000 francs which he obtained in 1865 to 1870 from Napoleon III. 

In 1872, the minister of public instruction and fine arts ordered the state of Mont Saint-Michel to be looked into and ordered schemes of its restoration to be prepared. The report sent to the President of the Republic was approved of and by a decree of the 20th of April 1874 the estate of the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was declared a historical building so as to assure its conservation. From that time, the state took care not only of the great works but assured they are being kept in order as well as the local reparations of the buildings. They were let till 1886 to the monks of the order of Saint-Edme of Pontigny, established on Mont Saint-Michel since 1865. The buildings thus let are composed of the old abbatial Logis only with its dependences on the south. 

From 1873, the minister of the public instruction and fine arts, through the care of the commission of historical buildings has undertaken important works of consolidation and restoration. The object of these works has been: the construction of a strong buttress at the angle southwest of the buildings in order to prevent their tumbling down the underpinning of the pillars, walls, and vaults of the romanesque substructures as well as those added on the west by Robert de Torigni in the twelfth century; the restoration of the flagging at the end of the eighteenth century, — after the suppressing of the first three arcades of the nave — and forming the ground of the large platform, on the west, before the actual front of the church. — The old flagging was buried under a bed of the ground covered by a common layer which was saturated with water which infiltrated in the vaults and underground walls and thus caused great damages; — the underpinning of the basis of the ruined Hostelry the split walls of which would have caused the destruction of the southern place of the romanesque bases and adjacent buildings; the construction of a counterfort to strengthen the wall of the western front; the repairing of the chapel Saint-Etienne on the south and at last, what was the most important and interesting part of the undertaking works, i. e. the restoration of the Cloister, begun in 1877 and entirely finished in 1881. The works were continued and include principally the restoration of the Dormitory, begun in 1882. 

The Barbican and its complicated history have been cleared from the walls.

The restoration of the ramparts has been commenced; the Barbican before the gate of the town has been repaired; the Avancée of the Barbican and its postern have been cleared from the walls and the dung hole which embarrassed it. The English bombards .— left by the Englishmen routed at the time of their last attack in 1434, — adorning the second door, but stopping the lateral postern have been placed on a platform which, though it does not take the place of the primitive tumbrels which they used as gun carriages, allow at least the examination in every detail of these curious species of the artillery of the fifteenth century. 

The works would have certainly been continued, if they had not been suddenly interrupted by an embankment erected near the ramparts, in spite of the greatest protests. This embankment, pompously but very improperly called a dike (for the word dike gives an idea of protection, and in this case, this word is a synonym of destruction), has had disastrous consequences.

No one from the residents of Mont St. Michel asked for the construction project, even those who were most likely to be impacted by it were not involved in decision-making about the project.

We must notice, that by an act of authority absolutely arbitrary, the plan of the breakwater or to speak more exactly of the embankment was modified during its execution, without any new inquiry, and instead of its finishing at the rock on the left of the entrance, it rests against the walls which must give way.

The undertaking cannot be explained; moreover, it has always been without explanation; for we cannot consider as such a slow and only slightly disinterested petition or the recent and peculiar protestation, made by some inhabitants, with the form of deliberation, which contained four signatures, one of which was approximately a signature, an absurd and affected fact which Monsieur Prudhomme, the immortal model of ridiculous vanity and sufficiency, would not certainly disavow.

Public opinion which on this occasion could be more justly called public sense has declared itself against this enterprise with as much strength as unanimity. The papers have boldly spoken about it from 1879, but without any result till now. However, we can believe that its endeavors, which are always generous and fair, will have their fruit and that the courageous and legitimate claims of Mrs. Lockroy and Jules Roche brought before parliament in 1881 and 1882, will be at last listened to and will give again to Mont Saint-Michel its insular situation which will assure the preservation of its ramparts, which have endured for centuries.

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