There are many sights and places to explore on educational visits to Normandy, but none that plunge your students so completely into the area’s fascinating medieval history as a trip to Mont Saint Michel. |
The abbey and medieval village which grew up around it are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They have remained largely unchanged for centuries, highlighting architectural styles from throughout its development from the eighth century through to the fifteenth. Its importance as a Catholic place of pilgrimage even today makes this a fascinating site for pupils in terms of both history and religious education.
The History of Mont Saint Michel
Educational visits to the mount often concentrate on its rich history. The first church to be built on this site was consecrated in 709 and was said to be commissioned by the Bishop of Avranches on the direct request of the Archangel Michel. By 966 a community of Benedictine monks had settled here, and it was they that were responsible for the pre-Romanesque church built on the site.
In the eleventh century the Romanesque abbey church and its monastery was built; the monastery buildings were then extended in the twelfth century. A century later, king Philip of France, having conquered Normandy, donated money to construct a new Gothic section of the Mereveille. And in the following century, to protect the monastery during the Hundred Years War, military fortifications were added. The fortifications were so successful that the mount was able to hold out in a siege lasting a staggering 30 years.
Damage done in the fourteenth century to the chancel of the abbey church was later replaced by the Gothic Flamboyant chancel seen today. During the French Revolution and Napoleonic era, the mount was used as a prison.
A Visit to the Mount
Today educational visits to Mont Saint Michel take in this entire range of history. Your students won’t fail to be impressed as they enter the medieval town by the Burgher’s Guardroom (now a Tourist Office), through the King’s Gate (with its imposing portcullis) and along the narrow cobbled medieval streets that look like something out of a fairy tale. As you and your class take the Grande Staircase through the town you’ll see the abbey church towering above you, and when you reach the church on the mount pupils can look out at the breathtaking views of the coast of Normandy.
There is plenty for students to see on the mount so it’s well worth talking to a specialist educational tour operator to make sure you don’t miss any of it. A typical itinerary for your class should include:
• Entrance to the abbey – the historic medieval church • The Archeoscope Museum – an exhibition about the construction of the church • Museum of History – featuring artefacts from the mount’s history (including its prisons and dungeons) • Maritime and Ecology Museum – an exhibition about the mount’s ecology • Tiphaine’s House – a museum featuring the fourteenth-century home of Tiphaine Du Guesclin
Make your school trip to Normandy something truly memorable by helping the past come to life for your class at Mont Saint Michel.
John Gardiner is the Managing Director of The School Travel Company, a tour operator specialising in educational visits for school and youth groups to the UK, Europe and beyond. As a father and avid traveller, John is very passionate about providing students with valuable and engaging learning experiences outside of the classroom. By sharing his expert advice with teachers, he allows them to inspire their students and bring their studies to life.
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