Day 10 |
May 07, 2010

St. Malo

By Olga Staveakis, Anthropologist/Historian

Coordinates: 48º38.682 N - 002º01.350 W

The morning was spent at sea on calm waters under partly cloudy skies. Gordon, our military historian, gave a very interesting and clear lecture on the D-Day landings explaining the tactical, technical and human challenges that the allies faced on June 6, 1944.

Just as he finished, we approached the ancient fortress city of St. Malo and shortly before lunch entered a lock that channeled us into the inland bay and to our dock alongside its heavy granite walls. St. Malo owes its name to a Welsh monk called Mac Low who settled in Brittany in the 6th century, along with many other Cornish and Welsh Celts immigrants fleeing the invading Saxons at home. There are still many cultural traits shared with the British Celts, one of which is the Breton language.

Our main destination was the fabled abbey of Mont Saint Michel, perched on a high rock promontory just off the mainland. After about an hour’s drive we turned onto the causeway and there it was in front of us in its breathtaking splendor. It rose above us from a wide base of walls and large terraces, upward to a delicate abbey church topped with a graceful slender spire extending up into the heavens.

The exhilarating climb took us up winding staircases, through small dark medieval tunnels, around mysterious dark corners, and up spiral staircases, until we emerged into the bright light of the open plaza in front of the Abbey church. Here we were greeted with a breathtaking view of the coast and towns far into the distance across grey tidal flats that periodically flood the causeway and cut the Mont from the mainland.

Passing quietly through the abbey church where a choir was in concert, the tour took us through a series of Romanesque and Gothic halls where the monks worked, ate and hosted pilgrims. The common rooms were grand and impressive with high arched ceilings that drew the eye upward. Once, they were decorated with fine tapestries, rugs, and wooden furniture.

Entering halls of the different periods, it became clear to me that the massive Romanesque architecture places the greatest emphasis on the walls and the stone, placing greater emphasis on the structure itself. In the Gothic rooms, the objective is to create an atmosphere of light and space and diminish the perception of the building.

The Prince Albert II did not leave until midnight, so there was plenty of time to explore the walled city and to sample the delicacies of Brittany. Local mussels were definitely in season and prominently displayed on menus in many of the restaurants.