The Washington Post today reports on efforts to preserve the islandness of Mont-Saint-Michel, the island abbey off the north coast of France. The historic rocky islet “is succumbing to a relentless invasion of silt and sea grass, which are surrounding the island and threatening to make it part of the mainland.
Part of the 19th century causeway will be replaced with a bridge.
Says a leader of the project to hold back the encroaching land, “If we don’t do anything at all, in 40 years Mont-Saint-Michel will be part of the continent.”
“Being an island is part of its strong identity — a gem in the sea,” says the mayor of the island, which has a population of 26 but is visited by 3 million people a year.
Long a pilgrimage destination, its island nature also has symbolic significance:
Brother François, who heads a group of six brothers and five sisters from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem who conduct services in the abbey, said Mont-Saint-Michel was laden with powerful religious symbolism that is important to protect — the mountaintop, the story of the archangel’s appearance, the sand flats where pilgrims wander, waiting for the parting of the sea at low tide.
After the causeway was built in 1879, Victor Hugo decried the change: “The Mont-Saint-Michel must remain an island. We must save it from mutilation!” People are at last responding.
[Image courtesy Neerav Mehta]