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article imageArmchair Traveler: A castle that can only be accessed at low tide

By Karen Graham     May 30, 2016 in Travel
While many travelers have heard of Mont St-Michel, the island commune in Normandy, France, most would be surprised to learn that England has its own version, St. Michael's Mount, a small tidal island in Mount's Bay, Cornwall, UK.
Both of these beautiful sites got their name from Saint Michael, one of the most important saints in the Middle Ages. As a matter of fact, St. Michael, together with St. George became the patron saint of chivalry and are now considered the patron saint of police officers, paramedics, firefighters and the military.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the angel Michael is venerated in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists both believe that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, while members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe Michael is another name for Adam.
The archangel Michael - A 13th century Byzantine icon in  Saint Catherine s Monastery  Sinai. (Anony...
The archangel Michael - A 13th century Byzantine icon in Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai. (Anonymous Byzantine painter (395-1453 AD)
Unknown
St. Michael, as the patron saint of mariners, is said to have appeared in Normandy in 708, to St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. He instructed the bishop to build a church in his name. The bishop repeatedly ignored St. Michael's order and the angel burned a hole in his skull with his finger.
According to legend, the angel appeared in a vision in 495 that saved some mariners from crashing against the rocky coastline of an island in what is now Cornwall, and this led to the building of a church dedicated to him on the rocky mount. A few centuries later, a Celtic monastery was established on St. Michael's Mount. A Christian grave dating from c.900 AD was recently discovered there.
Mont St-Michel in Normandy  France is also named for St. Michael  and it is also a tidal island.
Mont St-Michel in Normandy, France is also named for St. Michael, and it is also a tidal island.
B3My/Wikipedia
But bearing the name of an angel is not all these two islands share, says the BBC. Their history is further intertwined by the Norman conquest of Great Britain in the 11th century. Actually, Edward the Confessor gave the Cornwall island of St. Michael's Mount to the Benedictines of Mont St-Michel, and it was they who built the church and monastery in 1135. The island remained in the care of the Benedictine's of Normandy until 1424, when the association with Mont St-Michel ended.
An armchair tour of St. Michael's Mount
The Cornish name for the island means "the grey rock in a wood" — and may represent a folk memory of a time before Mount's Bay was flooded, indicating a description of the Mount set in woodland. This is probably true because at low tide after particularly fierce storms, the remains of trees have been seen.
St. Michael s Island is one of 43 tidal islands that one can walk to from mainland Britain. Part of ...
St. Michael's Island is one of 43 tidal islands that one can walk to from mainland Britain. Part of the island was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1995 for its geology.
Tim Hill
The abbey on St. Michael's Mount is perched atop a rocky hill, giving a spectacular view of the ocean. At low tide, visitors can walk to the island by way of a stone causeway used by pilgrims in the Middle Ages. There are 23 permanent residents still living on the island, in houses that date back to the 12th century.
Most of them are employed by the estate which is jointly run by the National Trust and St Aubyn Estates. The eight or so children on the island make a boat trip daily to attend school on the mainland. But the residents will tell you that life always isn't easy living on the island. Storms can be ferocious, like in 2014 when storms damaged the causeway. It has since been repaired.
Quaint 12th century buildings make up the village below the walled castle. Only about 23 people live...
Quaint 12th century buildings make up the village below the walled castle. Only about 23 people live on the island now.
Rick Steves
The island has also seen its share of military operations, from the English civil war to the present. In 1293, the walled monastery was seized by the future King John, serving as his stronghold against his brother, the then king, Richard I. It was also the island's residents who first spotted the Spanish Armada in 1588, using lanterns as beacon lights in sounding the alarm.
Visitors will be surprised to learn there are three WWII pillboxes, protected gun emplacements, on the island. While two of them are sealed off, one pillbox on the southeast side is open to the curious. The fortress's location made it particularly useful in protecting Mount's Bay.
Because of the mild climate brought on by the Gulf Stream  flowers more suited to the tropics can gr...
Because of the mild climate brought on by the Gulf Stream, flowers more suited to the tropics can grow on St. Michael's Island.
Tim Hill
All castles have gardens and St. Michael's Mount is no different. The one difference is that this garden is more of a tropical garden. This is possible because the Gulf Stream brings mild weather to this part of southwest England. In it one can find a number of plants usually seen in the tropics, like fuchsia Cape daisies from South Africa, azure-blue lithodora from the Mediterranean, and agaves, usually seen in Mexico and the strange-looking, rosette-shaped succulent aeonium of the subtropics.
Steep stairways lead up to the walled monastery.
Steep stairways lead up to the walled monastery.
Rick Steves
Should anyone be lucky enough to pay a visit to St. Michael's Mount, a comfortable pair of walking shoes is probably a very good idea. Those stone steps are steep.
More about st michael, mont st michael, st michael's mount, tidal islands, normal conquest
 
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