The Dormitory

At the same time that he finished the Knights’ Hall, Thomas des Chambres ordered the building of the Dormitory which he finished before his death, about 1225. The Dormitory is a large Hall erected above the Refectory of which it has the same general dimensions; but, instead of being, as the latter, vaulted with stones and divided into two parts, it was in one and covered with timberwork. The evidence of that primitive arrangement is seen in the west gable-end still standing entire; the stone wall arch which supported the semicircular wainscot still exists and attests to the ancient form. 

The Dormitory is lighted, on the north and on the south, by a succession of small windows, long and narrow, having the form of loop-holes; their apertures widen towards the outside and their crownings, by their peculiar forms in bee nests, seem to be a reminiscence of oriental art, seen by the French crusaders during their expeditions in Palestine. In the interior, these windows having their apertures widened the same as the outside is framed by small columns supporting fine series of arches surmounted by a projecting cornice, on which rested the wainscotted barrel vaulting. On the east, two large windows light the eastern end of the Dormitory. 

On the west, the principal door of the Dormitory opens on the east gallery of the Cloister; a lateral door opens on the same side and leads to the Church by the south gallery of the Cloister running parallel with the north transept. Towards the south-west angle, a door makes communication between the Dormitory, the Vestry and the Warming place and with the Cloister by a small door on the west. In the opposite angle on the northwest, ends the winding staircase, built in the thickness of the buttress at the junction of the two buildings of the Merveille, which had its starting point in the Almonry, ends above, on the north battlement the toothings of which are still seen on one of the sides of the small tower crowning the staircase. 

In the south front, very nearly in the middle, is a large niche including two series of arches, planned and built from the beginning as is proved by all the details of the construction. There were placed the lamps formed by holes dug in a stone and so disposed of as to receive a wick or a wax ball, furnished with a wick, the consumption of which enabled one to judge approximately what was the time, or, finally, any light which, according to Saint-Benoit’s rules, was to be burnt all night in the Dormitory. According to this same rule, the monks should lie down in their clothes on separate beds and, as much as possible, in the same room. Also, the plans made by the first builders show clearly that the Dormitory, was in the XIIIth century, established according to the regular customs of the Benedictine monks. At this time, the Dormitories, as a rule, had no ceiling. In the XVth century, contrary to the old rule, the Dormitory was divided into cells, according to the orders which Pierre le Roy, before starting for his long journey, gave the claustral Prior of the Abbey, Dom Nicolas de Yandastin. 

The timber-roof of the Dormitory was several times fired. In 1300, the lightning struck the Church the roof of which was burnt with the one of the Dormitory. Guillaume du Château repaired the damage during the time he had control of the Abbey. In 1374, the lightning again set fire to the Church and the Dormitory, several lodgings of the Monastery and almost all the houses of the Town; Geoffroy de Servon began the restoration of the Dormitory which was finished in 1391 by Pierre le Roy, who rebuilt the pyramid of the octagonal Tower of the Refectory, called: Corbins Tower. ” Having restored the temple, he took care of the Monastery: he ordered the Tower of the Refectory, to be rebuilt which had fallen down sometime before.

From this time (end of the XIVth century) till the beginning of the XVIth century the Dormitory, as well as the buildings of the Monastery, were carefully attended to but during the time of the commendatory Abbots, the building and restoration were discontinued. Several decrees of the Norman parliament were necessary to make the Abbots do the necessary repairs. 

In the midst of difficulties of every kind with which the Abbey was troubled, such a looseness of manners in the morals of the Monks caused them to be replaced in 1622 by the monks of Saint-Maur; the new inhabitants of Mont Saint-Michel unhappily spoilt the Dormitory. In 1629 this magnificent hall was divided into two parts by the establishment of new cells.

The transformation of the Abbey into a prison, profaning the Church and the sacred places, increased the already mutilated ruins. Like the other halls of the Monastery profanely inhabited, the Dormitory was divided into two floors of rooms for the prisoners and over was a loft; on the north front, foul latrines were built which were happily pulled down last year. The actual roofing is modern; above the wall arch about which we spoke before, on the interior front of the west gable is seen the projecting hostels destined to prevent the infiltration of rainwater between the wall and the covering; they determine surely the primitive form of the old gable-end and timber-roof. 

The halls of the Merveille, except the Cellar and the interior galleries of the Cloister, were paved in terra cotta square panes colored and enameled, some remnants of which we have collected in the excavations which were made in diverse parts of the Abbey. The timber roof of the Dormitory was covered with varnished tiles; we have also found some pieces of those tiles in the ruins of the flight of steps leading to the fountain Saint-Aubert. 

The Cloister and the Dormitory are on the top of the Merveille; if the visitor has followed us, he will have thoroughly seen this, or rather, those magnificent buildings. On descending the staircase of the Gorbins’ tower, which communicates with the Dormitory by a small door in the southeast angle, the visitor must stop halfway to see the battlement of the Chatelet, which is just as it was in the XVth century; besides we will refer to this later, on leaving the Abbey; afterward, in descending, he will come again under the porch at the entrance of the Almonry; but before leaving the Merveille, it seems to us necessary to say some words about the works which protected it on the north, as well as about the fountain Saint-Aubert, which had considerable importance from the XIIIth to the XVth century.

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