Mont Saint Michel from 1300 to 1600

Royal Gate of Mont Saint Michel

After Robert Jolivet died in 1411, he was eventually put in charge of the Mont Saint Michel by Pope John XXIII. During the first years of his administration, he seemed inclined to follow the example of his predecessors, but tiring of the severe rule of his Abbey, he studied in the « Faculté des Décrets ».

Recalled to his Abbey which was being threatened by the English who had seized upon Normandy in 1415 after the battle of Agincourt, and had fortified themselves in Tombelaine in 1417, Robert Jolivet, though he had forgotten his duties of abbot remembered, at the moment of danger those which he was bound to fulfill as the governor of the fortress. 

The new fortifications of Mont Saint Michel

After having collected provisions of all kind, thanks to the resources of the Abbey, and to the assistance which he received from Charles VI, he built around the enlarged town the irregular enclosure which still exists, joined its new fortifications on the east to those erected by Guillaume du Château in the fourteenth century, by extending them on the south and flanking them by six towers.

However he soon grew tired of his new military life, and in 1420 he yielded to the splendid offers of the king of England. « He withdrew to Rouen among the English who were masters of this town and of Normandy… By accepting high office under the duke of Bedford, Robert Jolivet incurred the hatred of the monks whose love of their fatherland had remained steadfast They named a successor to him… ». 

The abbot Jean Gonault during the absence of his regular abbot courageously governed the Abbey. « In addition to these misfortunes of war, Jean Gonault saw, in 1421, on the eve of Saint-Martin’s feast, the whole end of this church even to the stalls in the chancel fall to the ground without, however, anybody being injured ».

10 years of English assaults

In 1425, Louis d’Estouteville, military governor of the fortress of the Mount, built the Barbican in front of the gate of the town so as to cover its approaches. The town sustained a long but glorious siege; from 1422 to 1434 it resisted victoriously the assaults of the English. In 1435 they tried the last assault: routed by the garrison and the knights, defenders of the Mount, they abandoned their artillery the bombards of which, now adorning the forepart of the Barbican, second entrance door, remain as curious specimens. 

During a period of about thirty years, the Abbey was in the greatest distress; its property being sequestrated, it was obliged to pawn its silver plate, its shrines, and its reliquaries, in order to feed the monks, the inhabitants of the town, and the garrison of the fortress. This state of things lasted until 1450, when after the battle of Formigny, the English abandoned Normandy and were driven out of France, except Calais which they kept until 1558. 

Let’s build the Chancel Of The Church

As early as 1450, it became possible to undertake the works so much needed by the Abbey, and Guillaume d’Estouteville, the first commendatory abbot, began the chancel of the church. « He obtained from the popes several bulls containing plenary indulgences… for all who should visit this church of Mont Saint-Michel and give alms. By these means and also with the assistance of the Abbey revenues, they began to rebuild the chancel, which since 1421 was in ruins, and to rebuild it not as it was at first, but so sumptuously that if they had continued building the other parts of the church with the same magnificence, it would have been impossible to see in France a more beautiful structure ».

The cardinal d’Estouteville however gave up the idea of rebuilding the whole of the church on the same plan, and ordered two arcades to be made joining together the pillars of the central steeple but of a different form from the others. Instead of jointed arches, he made buttresses in order to stop the complete ruin of two of the pillars of the triumphal arches which the falling of the romanesque chancel.

Cardinal’s death

The works were interrupted in 1482 by the cardinal’s death. André Laure limited the work to adorning the chapels erected by his predecessor. Guillaume de Lamps ordered the work to be continued… » Besides which the fire of heaven having burnt the steeple and melted the bells, he ordered all to be rebuilt. » This citation shows that the steeple had been rebuilt with wood after the falling of the stone one built-in the twelfth century by Bernard du Bec. According to some authors the wooden spire— rebuilt by Guillaume de Lamps in 1309, was crowned by a golden statue of the Archangel Saint-Michel with unfurled wings… 

Jean de Lamps, 34th, and last regular abbot, 1313 to 1523, recommence the works of the chancel, left unfinished since his brother’s death, « He ordered the whole of the building which covers the big altar, to be finished even from the top of the first pane of glass. This was done, panes of glasses, pillars, vaults, and roofs were rebuilt as they stand now ». This magnificent chancel finished in 1521 was the last of the remarkable constructions of Mont Saint-Michel. We may however remark that about 1530, the lieutenant of the king Francis 1st ordered the tower or bastion, Gabriel, to be erected in the place where the mount now is. The name was taken from its author Gabriel du Puy. The object was to complete the defenses of the Abbey on the west where the rock can be used. At that time a small work was built near the Barbican of the gate of the town. It formed the Avancée of the place and was used as the guardhouse of the burghers of the Mount. The ramparts were altered, principally those of the projecting tower on the east. 

Fire, again.

The succeeding abbots ceased building and several of them showed the greatest dislike to keep up the buildings erected by their predecessors, A fire happened in 1564 which burnt a great part of the monastery; five years after no repairs were begun and a decree of the Rouen parliament was necessary to compel the abbot François le Roux to do the necessary works. He being dissatisfied exchanged his Abbey with Arthur de Cossé, bishop of Coutances; the zeal of whom was not greater than that of his predecessor. The cardinal de Joyeuse who succeeded him was not more disposed to make the necessary repairs. In 1594, the lightning fell again on the steeple, burnt a part of its timberwork and that of the church. Other damages were done. Another decree of Parliament was necessary to compel the Abbot to repair these buildings. 

During the wars of the Ligue, the abbots of the Mount bad too often to protect their Abbey against the attacks of the Huguenots to think of enlarging or even repairing the buildings. However, the decree published by the Rouen parliament, on the 12 of September 1602, forced the general intendants of the Abbey, the sir of Brévent and Jean de Surtainville to erect the massive tower which still exists. 

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