CHAPTER VII. Concerning Mont St Michel
You may buy among the numerous photographs and pictures for sale in the trinket shops, coloured post-cards which show flaming sunsets behind the abbey, but nothing that I have yet seen does the smallest justice to the reality. Standing on the causeway and looking up to the great height of the tower that crowns the highest point, the gilded St Michael with his outspread wings seems almost ready to soar away into the immensity of the canopy of heaven. Through the traceried windows of the chancel of the church, the evening light on the opposite side of the rock glows through the green glass, for from this position the upper windows are opposite to one another and the light passes right through the building. The great mass of curiously simple yet most striking structures that girdle the summit of the rock and form the platform beneath the church, though built at different times, have joined in one consenescence and now present the appearance of one of those cities that dwell in the imagination when reading of "many tower'd Camelot" or the turreted walls of fairyland. Down below these great and inaccessible buildings comes an almost perpendicular drop of rocks, bare except for stray patches of grass or isolated bushes that have taken root in crevices. Then between this and the fortified wall, with its circular bastions, encircling the base of the rock, the roofs of the little town are huddled in picturesque confusion. The necessity of accommodating the modern pilgrims has unfortunately led to the erection of one or two houses that in some measure jar with their mediaeval surroundings. Another unwelcome note is struck by the needlessly aggressive board on the museum which has already been mentioned. However, when a sunset is glowing behind the mount, these modern intrusions are subdued into insignificance, and there is nothing left to disturb the harmony of the scene.
A walk round the ramparts reveals an endless series of picturesque groupings of the old houses with their time-worn stone walls, over which tower the chatelet and La Merveille. Long flights of stone steps from the highest part of the narrow street lead up to the main entrance of the abbey buildings. Here, beneath the great archway of the chatelet, sits an old blind woman who is almost as permanent a feature as the masonry on which she sits. Ascending the wide flight of steps, the Salle des Gardes is reached. It is in the lower portion of the building known as Belle-Chaise, mentioned earlier in this chapter. From this point a large portion of the seemingly endless series of buildings are traversed by the visitor, who is conducted by a regular guide. You ascend a great staircase, between massive stone walls spanned by two bridges, the first a strongly built structure of stone, the next a slighter one of wood, and then reach a breezy rampart where great views over the distant coasts spread themselves out. From here you enter the church, its floor now littered with the debris of restoration. Then follow the cloister and the refectory, and down below them on the second floor of the Merveille is the Salle des Chevaliers. Besides the wonderful Gothic halls with their vaulted roofs and perfect simplicity of design, there are the endless series of crypts and dungeons, which leave a very strong impression on the minds of all those whose knowledge of architecture is lean. There is the shadowy crypt of Les Gros Pilliers down below the chancel of the church; there is the Charnier where the holy men were buried in the early days of the abbey; and there is the great dark space filled by the enormous wheel which was worked by the prisoners when Mont St Michel was nothing more than a great jail. It was by this means that the food for the occupants of the buildings was raised from down below. Without knowing it, in passing from one dark chamber to another, the guide takes his little flock of peering and wondering visitors all round the summit of the rock, for it is hard, even for those who endeavour to do so, to keep the cardinal points in mind, when, except for a chance view from a narrow window, there is nothing to correct the impression that you are still on the same side of the mount as the Merveille. At last the perambulation is finished - the dazzling sunshine is once more all around you as you come out to the steep steps that lead towards the ramparts.