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    Ch. 1- Saint Michiel de la Mer del Peril

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    Chapter 1
    The Archangel loved heights. Standing on the summit of the tower
    that crowned his church, wings upspread, sword uplifted, the devil
    crawling beneath, and the cock, symbol of eternal vigilance, perched
    on his mailed foot, Saint Michael held a place of his own in heaven
    and on earth which seems, in the eleventh century, to leave hardly
    room for the Virgin of the Crypt at Chartres, still less for the
    Beau Christ of the thirteenth century at Amiens. The Archangel
    stands for Church and State, and both militant. He is the conqueror
    of Satan, the mightiest of all created spirits, the nearest to God.
    His place was where the danger was greatest; therefore you find him
    here. For the same reason he was, while the pagan danger lasted, the
    patron saint of France. So the Normans, when they were converted to
    Christianity, put themselves under his powerful protection. So he
    stood for centuries on his Mount in Peril of the Sea, watching
    across the tremor of the immense ocean,-immensi tremor oceani,-as
    Louis XI, inspired for once to poetry, inscribed on the collar of
    the Order of Saint Michael which he created. So soldiers, nobles,
    and monarchs went on pilgrimage to his shrine; so the common people
    followed, and still follow, like ourselves.

    The church stands high on the summit of this granite rock, and on
    its west front is the platform, to which the tourist ought first to
    climb. From the edge of this platform, the eye plunges down, two
    hundred and thirty-five feet, to the wide sands or the wider ocean,
    as the tides recede or advance, under an infinite sky, over a
    restless sea, which even we tourists can understand and feel without
    books or guides; but when we turn from the western view, and look at
    the church door, thirty or forty yards from the parapet where we
    stand, one needs to be eight centuries old to know what this mass of
    encrusted architecture meant to its builders, and even then one must
    still learn to feel it. The man who wanders into the twelfth century
    is lost, unless he can grow prematurely young.

    One can do it, as one can play with children. Wordsworth, whose
    practical sense equalled his intuitive genius, carefully limited us
    to "a season of calm weather," which is certainly best; but granting
    a fair frame of mind, one can still "have sight of that immortal
    sea" which brought us hither from the twelfth century; one can even
    travel thither and see the children sporting on the shore. Our sense
    is partially atrophied from disuse, but it is still alive, at least
    in old people, who alone, as a class, have the time to be young.

    One needs only to be old enough in order to be as young as one will.
    From the top of this Abbey Church one looks across the bay to
    Avranches, and towards Coutances and the Cotentin,--the Constantinus
    pagus,--whose shore, facing us, recalls the coast of New England.
    The relation between the granite of one coast and that of the
    other may be fanciful, but the relation between the people who live
    on each is as hard and practical a fact as the granite itself. When
    one enters the church, one notes first the four great triumphal
    piers or columns, at the intersection of the nave and transepts, and
    on looking into M. Corroyer's architectural study which is the chief
    source of all one's acquaintance with the Mount, one learns that
    these piers were constructed in 1058. Four out of five American
    tourists will instantly recall the only date of mediaeval history
    they ever knew, the date of the Norman Conquest. Eight years after
    these piers were built, in 1066, Duke William of Normandy raised an
    army of forty thousand men in these parts, and in northern France,
    whom he took to England, where they mostly stayed. For a hundred and
    fifty years, until 1204, Normandy and England were united; the
    Norman peasant went freely to England with his lord, spiritual or
    temporal; the Norman woman, a very capable person, followed her
    husband or her parents; Normans held nearly all the English fiefs;
    filled the English Church; crowded the English Court; created the
    English law; and we know that French was still currently spoken in
    England as late as 1400, or thereabouts, "After the scole of
    Stratford atte bowe." The aristocratic Norman names still survive in
    part, and if we look up their origin here we shall generally find
    them in villages so remote and insignificant that their place can
    hardly be found on any ordinary map; but the common people had no
    surnames, and cannot be traced, although for every noble whose name
    or blood survived in England or in Normandy, we must reckon hundreds
    of peasants. Since the generation which followed William to England
    in 1066, we can reckon twenty-eight or thirty from father to son,
    and, if you care to figure up the sum, you will find that you had
    about two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors living in
    the middle of the eleventh century. The whole population of England
    and northern France may then have numbered five million, but if it
    were fifty it would not much affect the certainty that, if you have
    any English blood at all, you have also Norman. If we could go back
    and live again in all our two hundred and fifty million arithmetical
    ancestors of the eleventh century, we should find ourselves doing
    many surprising things, but among the rest we should pretty
    certainly be ploughing most of the fields of the Cotentin and
    Calvados; going to mass in every parish church in Normandy;
    rendering military service to every lord, spiritual or temporal, in
    all this region; and helping to build the Abbey Church at Mont-
    Saint-Michel. From the roof of the Cathedral of Coutances over
    yonder, one may look away over the hills and woods, the farms and
    fields of Normandy, and so familiar, so homelike are they, one can
    almost take oath that in this, or the other, or in all, one knew
    life once and has never so fully known it since.

    Never so fully known it since! For we of the eleventh century, hard-
    headed, close-fisted, grasping, shrewd, as we were, and as Normans
    are still said to be, stood more fully in the centre of the world's
    movement than our English descendants ever did. We were a part, and
    a great part, of the Church, of France, and of Europe. The Leos and
    Gregories of the tenth and eleventh centuries leaned on us in their
    great struggle for reform. Our Duke Richard-Sans-Peur, in 966,
    turned the old canons out of the Mount in order to bring here the
    highest influence of the time, the Benedictine monks of Monte
    Cassino. Richard II, grandfather of William the Conqueror, began
    this Abbey Church in 1020, and helped Abbot Hildebert to build it.
    When William the Conqueror in 1066 set out to conquer England, Pope
    Alexander II stood behind him and blessed his banner. From that
    moment our Norman Dukes cast the Kings of France into the shade. Our
    activity was not limited to northern Europe, or even confined by
    Anjou and Gascony. When we stop at Coutances, we will drive out to
    Hauteville to see where Tancred came from, whose sons Robert and
    Roger were conquering Naples and Sicily at the time when the Abbey
    Church was building on the Mount. Normans were everywhere in 1066,
    and everywhere in the lead of their age. We were a serious race. If
    you want other proof of it, besides our record in war and in
    politics, you have only to look at our art. Religious art is the
    measure of human depth and sincerity; any triviality, any weakness,
    cries aloud. If this church on the Mount is not proof enough of
    Norman character, we will stop at Coutances for a wider view. Then
    we will go to Caen and Bayeux. From there, it would almost be worth
    our while to leap at once to Palermo. It was in the year 1131 or
    thereabouts that Roger began the Cathedral at Cefalu and the Chapel
    Royal at Palermo; it was about the year 1174 that his grandson
    William began the Cathedral of Monreale. No art--either Greek or
    Byzantine, Italian or Arab--has ever created two religious types so
    beautiful, so serious, so impressive, and yet so different, as Mont-
    Saint-Michel watching over its northern ocean, and Monreale, looking
    down over its forests of orange and lemon, on Palermo and the
    Sicilian seas.

    Down nearly to the end of the twelfth century the Norman was fairly
    master of the world in architecture as in arms, although the
    thirteenth century belonged to France, and we must look for its
    glories on the Seine and Marne and Loire; but for the present we are
    in the eleventh century,--tenants of the Duke or of the Church or of
    small feudal lords who take their names from the neighbourhood,--
    Beaumont, Carteret, Greville, Percy, Pierpont,--who, at the Duke's
    bidding, will each call out his tenants, perhaps ten men-at-arms
    with their attendants, to fight in Brittany, or in the Vexin toward
    Paris, or on the great campaign for the conquest of England which is
    to come within ten years,--the greatest military effort that has
    been made in western Europe since Charlemagne and Roland were
    defeated at Roncesvalles three hundred years ago. For the moment, we
    are helping to quarry granite for the Abbey Church, and to haul it
    to the Mount, or load it on our boat. We never fail to make our
    annual pilgrimage to the Mount on the Archangel's Day, October 16.
    We expect to be called out for a new campaign which Duke William
    threatens against Brittany, and we hear stories that Harold the
    Saxon, the powerful Earl of Wessex in England, is a guest, or, as
    some say, a prisoner or a hostage, at the Duke's Court, and will go
    with us on the campaign. The year is 1058.

    All this time we have been standing on the parvis, looking out over
    the sea and sands which are as good eleventh-century landscape as
    they ever were; or turning at times towards the church door which is
    the pons seclorum, the bridge of ages, between us and our ancestors.
    Now that we have made an attempt, such as it is, to get our minds
    into a condition to cross the bridge without breaking down in the
    effort, we enter the church and stand face to face with eleventh-
    century architecture; a ground-plan which dates from 1020; a central
    tower, or its piers, dating from 1058; and a church completed in
    1135. France can offer few buildings of this importance equally old,
    with dates so exact. Perhaps the closest parallel to Mont-Saint-
    Michel is Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, above Orleans, which seems to have
    been a shrine almost as popular as the Mount, at the same time.
    Chartres was also a famous shrine, but of the Virgin, and the west
    porch of Chartres, which is to be our peculiar pilgrimage, was a
    hundred years later than the ground-plan of Mont-Saint-Michel,
    although Chartres porch is the usual starting-point of northern
    French art. Queen Matilda's Abbaye-aux-Dames, now the Church of the
    Trinity, at Caen, dates from 1066. Saint Sernin at Toulouse, the
    porch of the Abbey Church at Moissac, Notre-Dame-du-Port at
    Clermont, the Abbey Church at Vezelay, are all said to be twelfth-
    century. Even San Marco at Venice was new in 1020.

    Yet in 1020 Norman art was already too ambitious. Certainly nine
    hundred years leave their traces on granite as well as on other
    material, but the granite of Abbot Hildebert would have stood
    securely enough, if the Abbot had not asked too much from it.
    Perhaps he asked too much from the Archangel, for the thought of the
    Archangel's superiority was clearly the inspiration of his plan. The
    apex of the granite rock rose like a sugar-loaf two hundred and
    forty feet (73.6 metres) above mean sea-level. Instead of cutting
    the summit away to give his church a secure rock foundation, which
    would have sacrificed about thirty feet of height, the Abbot took
    the apex of the rock for his level, and on all sides built out
    foundations of masonry to support the walls of his church. The apex
    of the rock is the floor of the croisee, the intersection of nave
    and transept. On this solid foundation the Abbot rested the chief
    weight of the church, which was the central tower, supported by the
    four great piers which still stand; but from the croisee in the
    centre westward to the parapet of the platform, the Abbot filled the
    whole space with masonry, and his successors built out still
    farther, until some two hundred feet of stonework ends now in a
    perpendicular wall of eighty feet or more. In this space are several
    ranges of chambers, but the structure might perhaps have proved
    strong enough to support the light Romanesque front which was usual
    in the eleventh century, had not fashions in architecture changed in
    the great epoch of building, a hundred and fifty years later, when
    Abbot Robert de Torigny thought proper to reconstruct the west
    front, and build out two towers on its flanks. The towers were no
    doubt beautiful, if one may judge from the towers of Bayeux and
    Coutances, but their weight broke down the vaulting beneath, and one
    of them fell in 1300. In 1618 the whole facade began to give way,
    and in 1776 not only the facade but also three of the seven spans of
    the nave were pulled down. Of Abbot Hildebert's nave, only four
    arches remain.

    Still, the overmastering strength of the eleventh century is stamped
    on a great scale here, not only in the four spans of the nave, and
    in the transepts, but chiefly in the triumphal columns of the
    croisee. No one is likely to forget what Norman architecture was,
    who takes the trouble to pass once through this fragment of its
    earliest bloom. The dimensions are not great, though greater than
    safe construction warranted. Abbot Hildebert's whole church did not
    exceed two hundred and thirty feet in length in the interior, and
    the span of the triumphal arch was only about twenty-three feet, if
    the books can be trusted. The nave of the Abbaye-aux-Dames appears
    to have about the same width, and probably neither of them was meant
    to be vaulted. The roof was of timber, and about sixty-three feet
    high at its apex. Compared with the great churches of the thirteenth
    century, this building is modest, but its size is not what matters
    to us. Its style is the starting-point of all our future travels.
    Here is your first eleventh-century church! How does it affect you?

    Serious and simple to excess! is it not? Young people rarely enjoy
    it. They prefer the Gothic, even as you see it here, looking at us
    from the choir, through the great Norman arch. No doubt they are
    right, since they are young: but men and women who have lived long
    and are tired,--who want rest,--who have done with aspirations and
    ambition,--whose life has been a broken arch,--feel this repose and
    self-restraint as they feel nothing else. The quiet strength of
    these curved lines, the solid support of these heavy columns, the
    moderate proportions, even the modified lights, the absence of
    display, of effort, of self-consciousness, satisfy them as no other
    art does. They come back to it to rest, after a long circle of
    pilgrimage,--the cradle of rest from which their ancestors started.
    Even here they find the repose none too deep.

    Indeed, when you look longer at it, you begin to doubt whether there
    is any repose in it at all,--whether it is not the most unreposeful
    thought ever put into architectural form. Perched on the extreme
    point of this abrupt rock, the Church Militant with its aspirant
    Archangel stands high above the world, and seems to threaten heaven
    itself. The idea is the stronger and more restless because the
    Church of Saint Michael is surrounded and protected by the world and
    the society over which it rises, as Duke William rested on his
    barons and their men. Neither the Saint nor the Duke was troubled by
    doubts about his mission. Church and State, Soul and Body, God and
    Man, are all one at Mont-Saint-Michel, and the business of all is to
    fight, each in his own way, or to stand guard for each other.
    Neither Church nor State is intellectual, or learned, or even strict
    in dogma. Here we do not feel the Trinity at all; the Virgin but
    little; Christ hardly more; we feel only the Archangel and the Unity
    of God. We have little logic here, and simple faith, but we have
    energy. We cannot do many things which are done in the centre of
    civilization, at Byzantium, but we can fight, and we can build a
    church. No doubt we think first of the church, and next of our
    temporal lord; only in the last instance do we think of our private
    affairs, and our private affairs sometimes suffer for it; but we
    reckon the affairs of Church and State to be ours, too, and we carry
    this idea very far. Our church on the Mount is ambitious, restless,
    striving for effect; our conquest of England, with which the Duke is
    infatuated, is more ambitious still; but all this is a trifle to the
    outburst which is coming in the next generation; and Saint Michael
    on his Mount expresses it all.

    Taking architecture as an expression of energy, we can some day
    compare Mont-Saint-Michel with Beauvais, and draw from the
    comparison whatever moral suits our frame of mind; but you should
    first note that here, in the eleventh century, the Church, however
    simple-minded or unschooled, was not cheap. Its self-respect is
    worth noticing, because it was short-lived in its art. Mont-Saint-
    Michel, throughout, even up to the delicate and intricate stonework
    of its cloisters, is built of granite. The crypts and substructures
    are as well constructed as the surfaces most exposed to view. When
    we get to Chartres, which is largely a twelfth-century work, you
    will see that the cathedral there, too, is superbly built, of the
    hardest and heaviest stone within reach, which has nowhere settled
    or given way; while, beneath, you will find a crypt that rivals the
    church above. The thirteenth century did not build so. The great
    cathedrals after 1200 show economy, and sometimes worse. The world
    grew cheap, as worlds must.

    You may like it all the better for being less serious, less heroic,
    less militant, and more what the French call bourgeois, just as you
    may like the style of Louis XV better than that of Louis XIV,--
    Madame du Barry better than Madame de Montespan,--for taste is free,
    and all styles are good which amuse; but since we are now beginning
    with the earliest, in order to step down gracefully to the stage,
    whatever it is, where you prefer to stop, we must try to understand
    a little of the kind of energy which Norman art expressed, or would
    have expressed if it had thought in our modes. The only word which
    describes the Norman style is the French word naif. Littre says that
    naif comes from natif, as vulgar comes from vulgus, as though native
    traits must be simple, and commonness must be vulgar. Both these
    derivative meanings were strange to the eleventh century. Naivete
    was simply natural and vulgarity was merely coarse. Norman naivete
    was not different in kind from the naivete of Burgundy or Gascony or
    Lombardy, but it was slightly different in expression, as you will
    see when you travel south. Here at Mont-Saint-Michel we have only a
    mutilated trunk of an eleventh-century church to judge by. We have
    not even a facade, and shall have to stop at some Norman village--at
    Thaon or Ouistreham--to find a west front which might suit the Abbey
    here, but wherever we find it we shall find something a little more
    serious, more military, and more practical than you will meet in
    other Romanesque work, farther south. So, too, the central tower or
    lantern--the most striking feature of Norman churches--has fallen
    here at Mont-Saint-Michel, and we shall have to replace it from
    Cerisy-la-Foret, and Lessay, and Falaise. We shall find much to say
    about the value of the lantern on a Norman church, and the singular
    power it expresses. We shall have still more to say of the towers
    which flank the west front of Norman churches, but these are mostly
    twelfth-century, and will lead us far beyond Coutances and Bayeux,
    from fleche to fleche, till we come to the fleche of all fleches, at

    We shall have a whole chapter of study, too, over the eleventh-
    century apse, but here at Mont-Saint-Michel, Abbot Hildebert's choir
    went the way of his nave and tower. He built out even more boldly to
    the east than to the west, and although the choir stood for some
    four hundred years, which is a sufficient life for most
    architecture, the foundations gave way at last, and it fell in 1421,
    in the midst of the English wars, and remained a ruin until 1450.
    Then it was rebuilt, a monument of the last days of the Gothic, so
    that now, standing at the western door, you can look down the
    church, and see the two limits of mediaeval architecture married
    together,--the earliest Norman and the latest French. Through the
    Romanesque arches of 1058, you look into the exuberant choir of
    latest Gothic, finished in 1521. Although the two structures are
    some five hundred years apart, they live pleasantly together. The
    Gothic died gracefully in France. The choir is charming,--far more
    charming than the nave, as the beautiful woman is more charming than
    the elderly man. One need not quarrel about styles of beauty, as
    long as the man and woman are evidently satisfied and love and
    admire each other still, with all the solidity of faith to hold them
    up; but, at least, one cannot help seeing, as one looks from the
    older to the younger style, that whatever the woman's sixteenth-
    century charm may be, it is not the man's eleventh-century trait of
    naivete;--far from it! The simple, serious, silent dignity and
    energy of the eleventh century have gone. Something more complicated
    stands in their place; graceful, self-conscious, rhetorical, and
    beautiful as perfect rhetoric, with its clearness, light, and line,
    and the wealth of tracery that verges on the florid.

    The crypt of the same period, beneath, is almost finer still, and
    even in seriousness stands up boldly by the side of the Romanesque;
    but we have no time to run off into the sixteenth century: we have
    still to learn the alphabet of art in France. One must live deep
    into the eleventh century in order to understand the twelfth, and
    even after passing years in the twelfth, we shall find the
    thirteenth in many ways a world of its own, with a beauty not always
    inherited, and sometimes not bequeathed. At the Mount we can go no
    farther into the eleventh as far as concerns architecture. We shall
    have to follow the Romanesque to Caen and so up the Seine to the Ile
    de France, and across to the Loire and the Rhone, far to the South
    where its home lay. All the other eleventh-century work has been
    destroyed here or built over, except at one point, on the level of
    the splendid crypt we just turned from, called the Gros Piliers,
    beneath the choir.

    There, according to M. Corroyer, in a corner between great
    constructions of the twelfth century and the vast Merveille of the
    thirteenth, the old refectory of the eleventh was left as a passage
    from one group of buildings to the other. Below it is the kitchen of
    Hildebert. Above, on the level of the church, was the dormitory.
    These eleventh-century abbatial buildings faced north and west, and
    are close to the present parvis, opposite the last arch of the nave.
    The lower levels of Hildebert's plan served as supports or
    buttresses to the church above, and must therefore be older than the
    nave; probably older than the triumphal piers of 1058.

    Hildebert planned them in 1020, and died after carrying his plans
    out so far that they could be completed by Abbot Ralph de Beaumont,
    who was especially selected by Duke William in 1048, "more for his
    high birth than for his merits." Ralph de Beaumont died in 1060, and
    was succeeded by Abbot Ranulph, an especial favourite of Duchess
    Matilda, and held in high esteem by Duke William. The list of names
    shows how much social importance was attributed to the place. The
    Abbot's duties included that of entertainment on a great scale. The
    Mount was one of the most famous shrines of northern Europe. We are
    free to take for granted that all the great people of Normandy slept
    at the Mount and, supposing M. Corroyer to be right, that they dined
    in this room, between 1050, when the building must have been in use,
    down to 1122 when the new abbatial quarters were built.

    How far the monastic rules restricted social habits is a matter for
    antiquaries to settle if they can, and how far those rules were
    observed in the case of great secular princes; but the eleventh
    century was not very strict, and the rule of the Benedictines was
    always mild, until the Cistercians and Saint Bernard stiffened its
    discipline toward 1120. Even then the Church showed strong leanings
    toward secular poetry and popular tastes. The drama belonged to it
    almost exclusively, and the Mysteries and Miracle plays which were
    acted under its patronage often contained nothing of religion except
    the miracle. The greatest poem of the eleventh century was the
    "Chanson de Roland," and of that the Church took a sort of
    possession. At Chartres we shall find Charlemagne and Roland dear to
    the Virgin, and at about the same time, as far away as at Assisi in
    the Perugian country, Saint Francis himself--the nearest approach
    the Western world ever made to an Oriental incarnation of the divine
    essence--loved the French romans, and typified himself in the
    "Chanson de Roland." With Mont-Saint-Michel, the "Chanson de Roland"
    is almost one. The "Chanson" is in poetry what the Mount is in
    architecture. Without the "Chanson," one cannot approach the feeling
    which the eleventh century built into the Archangel's church.
    Probably there was never a day, certainly never a week, during
    several centuries, when portions of the "Chanson" were not sung, or
    recited, at the Mount, and if there was one room where it was most
    at home, this one, supposing it to be the old refectory, claims to
    be the place.
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