CHRISTOPHER A LONG - Mont Saint Michel and St Michael's Mount

Mont Saint Michel in Normandy and St Michael's Mount in Cornwall

"Through the Looking Glass" re-establishing links after 600 years (07-11-2008)

By Christopher Long
incorporating study notes by David Nicolas-Méry
and references from Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel

Voir: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, l'Étain, le Bronze et l'Âge des Cloches

See: Mont-Saint-Michel and the Cornish Tin Trade

Voir: Le Mont-Saint-Michel et l'Étain de la Cornouaille

See: Mont-Saint-Michel and St Michael's Mount

Mediaeval origins...

Mont Saint Michel is a spectacular abbey sitting on a rocky island off the coast of Normandy. In 2008, already classified as a World Heritage site, Mont Saint Michel celebrated the 1,300th anniversary of its foundation.

Across the English Channel, in Cornwall, is an almost identical spectacular rocky island with equally ancient origins, which is only accessible at low tide – as used to be the case at Mont Saint Michel.

In the 12th century, about 100 years after William the Conqueror's invasion of England, the monastery on Mont Saint Michel founded a priory on St Michael's Mount.

The legends...

Legend describes Mont Saint Michel being surrounded by a forest known as Scissy and tradition at St Michael's Mount tells of a similar forest that was eventually swallowed by the encroaching sea.

According to the same tradition, St Michael's Mount was specifically chosen by St Michael who appeared on its heights to be venerated there.

Exactly the same story had been told of Mont Saint Michel – soon precipitating the first pilgrimages.

The cult of St Michael (the archangel who mythically fought evil on dramatic hill-tops) had its origins in 7th century Ireland. It is possible that it was brought to Cornwall by St Cadoc whose ruined chapel is at Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall. Interestingly there is a miniature Mont-Saint-Michel on the north coast of Britanny with a nearby chapel of St Cadoc close by on the mainland.

Thanks to the missions of Irish monks, this cult spread from rocky out-crops and hills in Ireland and Wales, across England (perhaps via Northumbria) to hill-top sites in Normandy, throughout Europe and into Italy.

Domesday Book...

According to various versions of the Domesday Book, the land of St Michael's in Cornwall, in the time of Edward the Confessor, consisted of Treiwal, a manor of two hides which lay in Marazion and also included the manor of Truthwall in Ludgvan and St Hilary. It does not say that a priory existed there. But since the manor did not pay 'geld' (tax) and was held by Brismar the Priest, both facts indicate that a community of priests might have existed there before the Conquest, though not necessarily at the time of Domesday Book (1086). After the Conquest Robert de Mortain took away the manor of Truthwall.

How St Michael's Mount was given to the abbey of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy...

This question raises enormous problems. At Avranches there exists a later copy of an ancient charter that purports to record the formal gift of St Michael's Mount by Edward the Confessor prior to the Norman Conquest.

Sadly, forensic study has led numerous academics to question its authenticity. It is now largely accepted that the document was concocted by monks after the Norman Conquest to demonstate the authentic basis in law of their ancient rights and that since St Michael's had long been theirs the Norman conquerors were in no position to give it away.

The monks at the ducal monastery of Mont Saint Michel might well have expected to benefit from the Norman Conquest. Their house had been re-founded by William's great-grandfather, Richard l of Normandy. They would also have been aware that William's invasion fleet had landed on the English coast on St Michael's Day. The saint was therefore of great significance to the Conqueror and to William's half-brother Robert de Mortain who says his banner bore the saint's image at the Battle of Hastings.

Two possible motives for the Norman monks creating this 'forged' manuscript are: (1) to show they had an ancient title and owed no favours to new Norman overlords in England; and/or (2) to provide evidence of an ancient title during their dispute with Robert de Mortain over their tenure of the manor of Truthwall.

Some time after the Norman Conquest the dominant land-owner in Cornwall was Robert de Mortain. He became Earl of Cornwall in 1072 and held 549 manors throughout England. Once again copies of a supposed original charter have survived (this time in Avranches and Exeter) by which Robert is supposed to have given St Michael's Mount to the abbey in Normandy. But while the gift by Robert and his wife Almodis almost certainly occurred, once again the authenticity of the copies of the 'original' charter have been called into question. They are riddled with inconsistencies and contain forged additions and improbable dates.

It seems clear that, probably between 1068 and 1070, Robert did indeed give the Mount to the monks, along with half a 'hide' of land (perhaps the piece of land that Domesday Book shows he had previously usurped). Later he added three acres of land in the Meneage, comprising Traboe and Lesneage in St Keverne and Tregevis and Carvallack in St Martin, as well as the right to a Thursday market (which may have given its name to 'Marazion').

For closer study of the arguments in both these cases, see D. Matthew and P.L. Hull in Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel (or the brief précis of their findings towards the end of this page).

Building St Michael's Mount...

What is certain is that the abbot of Mont Saint Michel Bernard du Bec, ordered the building of a priory on St Michael's Mount in 1135, its church being consacrated nine years later (1144) by Robert ll, Bishop of Exeter, in the presence of numerous Norman barons and monks (see the Otterton Custumal).

The reason for the delay in founding the priory may be connected to the Battle of Tinchebray (1106) in Normandy and the forfeiture of Mortain estates which passed to Reginald de Dunstanville, created Earl of Cornwall in 1141. So it was that Reginald, the Bishop of Exeter and the local barons who offered Bernard du Bec advice regarding the creation of a house for a prior and twelve monks.

Interestingly the Otterton Custumal says that absolute obedience to the abbot in Normandy and the payment of 16 marks was expected from the Cornish prior and monks in Cornwall. As late as 1309 a prior at the Mount described himself as a 'bailiff of the abbot". Historian P.L. Hull says that this subjection expalins why the Cornish property remained comparatively poor and its buildings never attained the magnificence of those at Mont Saint Michel.

Eventually St Michael's achieved greater status. From being merely a cell of Mont Saint Michel whose prior could be removed at the will of the Norman abbot, it became a distinct religious house with a convent, a seal and a perpetual prior. A document dated around 1200 shows the prior hearing a judicial case by royal command.

Mediaeval priories resembled miniature abbeys with standard elements such as a church, a refectory, a dormitory, a store-room, a court room and facilties for receiving and lodging visitors and pilgrims.

If the Norman monks created a familiar copy in Cornwall of their own abbey in Normandy, the remains of these elements at St Michael's could give us an idea of the early layout at Mont Saint Michel before its later colossal building programmes (e.g. la merveille) hid the more modest earlier arrangement.

This idea is reinforced by the fact that Bernard du Bec appears to have been responsible for the creation of Lady Chapels (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) on both St Michael's Mount and Tomberlaine, the island adjacent to Mont Saint Michel.

Throughout the remainder of the 12th century (and until at least the 14th century), monks from Mont Saint Michel were sent to their distant Cornish outpost where they managed the mainland estates that had also been granted to it. It is likely that these were young monks sent to St Michael's in order to test their abilities in a somewhat spartan, distant and foreign culture.


One of the prime roles of all monasteries and priories in the Middle Ages was to offer aid, food, lodging and spiritual guidance to pilgrims.

Hundreds of thousands of them trekked from one end of Europe to the other during the Middle Ages.

Apart from adventure, most were in search of redemption and an easier route to paradise before the relics of saints in sacred places.

During the 12th-14th centuries, pilgrimage became increasingly popular, particularly along routes linking sites devoted to St Michael and those that led to St Iago de Compostela in Spain. Many pilgrims travelled to Canterbury Cathedral in England (see Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales) where archbishop Thomas Beckett was the saintly attraction, his murder in 1170 having been incited by his former friend, King Henry ll, Duke of Normandy. But the connection between the two islands became difficult during the 100 Years' War and both islands were fortified.

The 100 Years' War...

In the 12th century, kings of England had also been dukes of Normandy. But in 1204 Philippe ll (Auguste) reincorporated Normandy into his French kingdom, whereupon England's King John (Lackland) lost his Norman territories. The 100 Years' War (1337-1453) saw the Conqueror's anglo-norman descendants in England attempting, but ultimately failing, to reclaim what they regarded as lost ancestral territories and heritage in Normandy and Picardy.

Nevertheless, Mont Saint Michel generally retained its possessions such as St Michael's Mount and Otterton priory, even if revenues were confiscated during hostilities and only resumed during more peaceful periods. But in 1385 (after such a period of confiscation and then neglect) Richard Auncell of Tavistock was appointed the first non-Norman prior of St Michael's Mount, while another prior was Richard Harepath.

Evidence of this difficult period is clear in an accusation that a C14th prior on St Michael Mount had had "relations with the foreigner". Presumably this means that the prior, far from Mont Saint Michel, was now making his own pragmatic arrangements with the English, among whom he lived and upon whom his future depended. Later, there are references to military installations on the Mount along with the arrival of a non-religious 'guard', or militia, on the island.

Some religious houses in England, like St Michael's Mount, may have benefitted from independence from Normandy but the break meant that revenues were simply transferred to the English king. This may have become restrictive and generally the greatest degree of independence had been gained long before.

The definitive break occurred in 1414 when Henry V formally appropriated St Michael's from Mount Saint Michel. Ten years later, Henry Vl confirmed the grant of St Michael's to Syon Abbey (Norman Monasteries says 1415) – to which it remained attached until the Reformation, apart from a relatively brief period when it was reassigned to King's College, Cambridge.

But despite this rift, the Norman abbey continued to fascinate the English as is shown in several 15th century illustrated manuscripts commissioned by John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford. His name remains linked to one of the most important of all mediaeval books, the Bedford Hours which depicts the key moments in the foundation of Mont Saint Michel.

MSM and SMM sever their links...

Although relations between Mont Saint Michel and St Michael's Mount had already been severed, the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Vlll, in the late 1530s, removed any possibility of reconnection. Even the ancient tradition of pilgrimage in England came to an abrupt end.

This 'Reformation' saw almost every English monastery and priory dissolved – and usually destroyed – while the arrival of Protestantism rejected not only the supremacy of the Pope but the cult of saints and relics, the sale of indulgences and all ideas of facile redemption. Any remaining links (largely those involving religious houses in England and France) were thus for ever torn apart.

In 1535, Henry Vlll abolished the priory on St Michael's Mount, turning the island into a fortress as a defence against threatened invasions by Roman Catholic France and Spain.

Interestingly, a few of the fine decorations stripped from English churches and abbeys found their way to mainland Europe.

Notable among these were fine late-mediaeval Nottingham alabaster figures, some of which can be seen in Avranches (see Saint Victor) and among the finest of which can be seen at Mont Saint Michel.

Such fragments of English artistry on the European continent (along with surviving items in London museums and elsewhere) are now all that remain of the almost unimaginable glories that once existed in England's monasteries... and it was this wealth in England and its anglo-norman monasteries that had so enriched the Duchy of Normandy in the 12th and 13th centuries.

From then on Europe was plunged into nearly 250 years of almost perpetual wars and power struggles which only nominally concerned religious belief or the sovereignty of the Pope.

Power struggles in Europe...

From the 16th century onwards, Mont Saint Michel in Normandy and St Michael's Mount in Cornwall faced each other as coastal fortresses, garrisons and prisons while the great powers of western Europe – England, France and Spain – fought for supremacy.

And since France had for centuries successfully resisted all Breton and English attempts to take Mont Saint Michel, its now towering abbey became a potent symbol of resistance.

Meanwhile, in Cornwall, St Michael's Mount might be seen as a microcosm of Britain itself, a fortified island, a bastion standing firm against repeated threats of invasion by Spain and France from Tudor times until the end of the Napoleonic era – even to the threat of German invasion in World War ll when it was home to anti-aircraft guns.

It was during this troubled period, in 1647, that Col. John St Aubyn became governor of St Michael's Mount, and its owner eight years later. He had wisely decided to switch sides and support King Charles ll when it was clear who would emerge as the winner following the republican experiment which followed the English Civil War!

Interestingly, the St Aubyn family, who own the island to this day, had their roots in mediaeval Normandy, probably having followed William the Conqueror to England after 1066. Their barony is now held in the name of St Levan, another name with probable Norman or Breton links.

Perhaps the turning point in this period was the sea battle at La Hougue in 1692 when a British fleet crippled a French fleet under the command of Admiral de Tourville

By the time of the French Revolution in 1789, Britain had emerged as the dominant global maritime power with a rapidly growing empire.

Meanwhile, France had become the de facto leading land power in western Europe with large continental ambitions.

Nevertheless, Anglo-French skirmishing continued off the coasts of Normandy and Cornwall.

Indeed, a French frigate was sunk in the bay beside St Michael's Mount, its guns (made at a foundry in Rennes) being proudly displayed there to this day.

But already St Michael's Mount and Mont Saint Michel had lost their symbolic and strategic significance.

The Norman abbey, stripped of its riches and religious community, became an almost abandoned ruin while the Cornish fortress was transformed into a comfortable manorial residence for the St Aubyn family.

Romantic revivals

But now, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Mont Saint Michel and Saint Michael's Mount were 'rediscovered'.

They were saved by the romantic fervour of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

And along with this came the development of cross-Channel ferries, railways, better roads and all the familiar accompaniments of mass tourism – either as cause or effect.

In the 19th century, British artists, writers and aristocrats set off with their sketch-books and diaries to rediscover Europe – and France in particular.

In their search for their anglo-norman roots in Normandy, collectors, historians and archaeologists made the 800 year-old mediaeval world fashionable again.

Among them was a steward of St Michael's Mount who visited Mont Saint Michel in about 1830.

He brought home with him a whole series of watercolours depicting Avranches and Mont Saint Michel.

Like the drawings of Emile Sagot, his paintings provide an invaluable and previously unpublished glimpse of the architectural history of Mont Saint Michel.

Meanwhile, more romantic artists (e.g. Cottman and Stanfield) became obsessed by the extraordinary outlines of the Mount and the Mont.

This movement led to repairs and restoration on both sides of the Channel as their owners sought to make the islands attractive and relevant to a new breed of 'pilgrim'.

The English in Avranches

Some British expatriates even settled in Avranches. In the 1820s, following the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, many military families in England were living on half-pay in the new era of Anglo-French peace.

Avranches attracted a growing number who found the cost of living in England more than they could afford during its very prosperous industrial revolution.

Here they settled discreetly in the newer and more fashionable boulevards of Avranches. And here they established their own large lending library (still in existence), introduced steeple-chasing and acquired their own cemetery.

But, importantly, many of them were intrigued by Mont Saint Michel and they provided the impetus to re-explore and publish Norman history. (See: N. Collette, Les Anglais à Avranches au XlXème siècle, Revue de l'Avranchin et du Pays de Granville, t. 81, p. 271-315).

It was in this spirit that James Hairby published Description and Historical Sketches of Avranches and its Vicinity in 1841, printed by Mme Ve Tribouillard.

The work contains two prints by the Avranches artist Louis Loir. In the same year Hairby also published A Short Account of Mont Saint-Michel and Tombelène, a brief study of the Mont in English.

A little later, in 1855, Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay, a Scotsman born in Edinburgh in 1799, died in Avranches. His tomb is one of the most interesting in the 'English corner' of Avranches Cemetery.

His son, John Francis Campbell (1821-1885) was in Avranches when his father died, having regularly visited him there since 1848.

Although the death certificate describes John, the eldest son, as a barrister living in London, he is well known today in Britain for his numerous publications on Scottish folklore.

But in Normandy he is renowned for a remarkable study of Mont Saint Michel bay.

(See three lithographs of Avranches by McFarlane after drawings by J. F. Campbell, circa 1848).

Preparing for the New Pilgrims of the 20th and 21st centuries...

In the 19th century, Mont Saint Michel, owned by the French state, was restored by Edouard Corroyer (a pupil of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc) to become France's premier national 'historic monument' outside Paris.

Strictly designed not to be a religious symbol, the restored Mont Saint Michel nevertheless acquired a spire by Yves-Marie Froidevaux to augment its already dominating presence, visible from at least thirty miles away. And from the start of the C21st it once again again housed a small religious community.

Accessible by a fixed causeway or by foot across the bay, the abbey's main attraction is a stark display of some of the finest mediaeval architecture anywhere in the world. In contrast to the commercialism of the village below, the towering abbey maintains an atmosphere of serenity and contemplation despite its millions of visitors.

Even if Mont Saint Michel is no longer really an abbey, it contains almost every physical element of a great mediaeval abbey. Though now transcending all faiths and cults, its primary role is still to be a marvel to be wondered at – as its founding abbots almost certainly intended.

In the 19th century, St Michael's Mount was restored and extended to include an impressive neo-gothic residence (probably inspired by architectural talents from within the St Aubyn family). Although officially an historic monument, it is run by the family which owns and lives in it (in partnership with the National Trust).

Accessible at low tide across its original causeway, or by boat to its own small harbour and village, the castle's attractions consist largely of its dramatic position, its gardens and the rich contents of its rooms which give visitors a good overview of the history of the St Aubyn family and of English history generally.

The mediaeval priory church, dominating the sky-line for miles around, still functions as the island's parish church although the mediaeval chapel, refectory, dormitory, prior's room, garde-robe, store-room, etc., were in some cases incorporated into the domestic parts of the castle and so are less easy to identify without help.

Even if St Michael's Mount is now a privately-owned castle rather than a priory, it still contains almost every element of the mediaeval priory. In contrast to Mont Saint Michel this is an intimate place that looks outwards over the sea, being more of an observatory than a place to be observed – as its founding monks almost certainly intended.

Visitors today are not often in search of Christian redemption but their spiritual reactions to Mont Saint Michel and St Michael's Mount may be similiar to those of pilgrims in the late Middle Ages.

To reach the foot of these remote and mysterious places is an excuse for a journey – the adventure, joy or pain along the way being a metaphor for life.

To climb a spectacular rock and reach the end of one's journey in sublime man-made surroundings is to rejoice at the confluence of nature and art.

To stand where fifty generations have stood before may reassure visitors of their place in the great continuity of life and death.

Reconnecting MSM with SMM...

In 2007, a group of us in Normandy persuaded the St Aubyn family on St Michael's Mount to help us re-establish these ancient anglo-norman links.

This led to useful and delightful private visits in each direction during 2007-2008 and the prospect of collaborating on future research, exhibitions and conferences on both sides of the Channel.

In September 2008, the curator and historian David Nicolas-Méry proposed a major exhibition for 2010 devoted to the shared and contrasting histories of Mont Saint Michel and St Michael's Mount, entitled Through The Looking Glass.

Such an exhibition, in collaboration with St Michael's Mount and the National Trust in England, would be the first exhibition of its kind to explore their shared 1,000 year-old anglo-norman links from the 11th to the 21st centuries.

Among points to be explored are:

CONCLUSION: The two Mounts today...
  1. At the dawn of the 21st century the two St Michael's mounts drive their local tourist economies in Basse-Normandie and Cornwall.
  2. St Michael's Mount attracts 200,000 visitors a year, while the French abbey attracts visitors in their millions!
  3. Since Henry Vlll, the English have rather lost sight of St Michael's Mount as a priory. In fact most visitors go there to see a castle or fortress. In the collective memory of the Cornish, the important links with Mont Saint Michel have also faded with the passage of time. Our exhibition aims to rekindle and highlight this shared history.
  4. In the context of efforts to integrate European cultures, several projects are being proposed in order to re-establish historic links between these two sites, some of which are very ancient. To this end the Association des Chemins de Pèlerinage du Mont-Saint-Michel hopes to re-open a pilgrim route from St Michael's Mount to Winchester where English pilgrims set off for Mont Saint Michel.
  1. The exhibition aims to promote the historic and artistic links between the two mounts and generally between Britain and France.
  2. This will include showing works which have never been exhibited in France before alongside important works from municipal collections as well as key items from the Archives départementales de la Manche.
  3. The exhibition will be bilingual, not only for the benefit of anglophone visitors but also so that it can be presented at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.
  1. Study days are planned on subjects developing from the exhibition, involving representatives from Britain and France as well as academics from Caen University who are already involved in the project.
  2. Conferences (details to come)
  3. Film/documentary devoted to St Michael's Mount The Tale of Two Castles shown on regional/national TV in Britain in 2008.
  1. Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel
  2. St Aubyn Estates & St Michael's Mount
  3. The National Trust and The National Trust at St Michael's Mount
  4. Royal Museum of Cornwall
  5. English Heritage
  6. Archives Départementales de la Manche
  7. University of Caen: Office Universitaire d'Etudes Normandes
  8. Association des Chemins de Pèlerinage du Mont-Saint-Michel

The possessions of Mont Saint Michel in England and the Channel Islands included:



Cambridgeshire (Ely)  

Cornwall (Exeter)  

Devon (Exeter)  

Hampshire (Winchester)  

Somerset (Bath)  

Sussex (Salisbury)  

Wiltshire (Salisbury)  

Yorkshire (Durham or York)  



Guernsey (Coutances)  

Island of the Bailliwick of Guernsey (Coutances)  

Island of the Bailliwick of Guernsey (Coutances)  

Jersey (Coutances)  

[Place names in (brackets) are the governing  
dioceses according to mediaeval sources.]  

Cholsey — St Mary's church, gift of William l, exchanged for Budleigh in 1123. Described at the last great Saxon abbey. In AD 986, Queen Aelfrith founded a Royal nunnery in the village, in repentance for murdering her step-son, St. Edward, King & Martyr. Its remains may be indicated by 10th century long & short quoins in the lower stages of the present church walls. Nearby was the largest tythe barn ever built. In 1123 Henry l gave monks £12 of land in Budleigh in exchange for Cholsey and another church.
Wargrave ** — St Mary's church, exchanged by Henry l for Budleigh in 1123. Belonged to Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor before 1066. 5,000 acre manor worth £27/6/8 in 1086.
Great Wilbraham — parish church of St Nicholas. In c. 970 a monk Wulfhun gave the church with 40 acres to Ramsey Abbey (Hunts.), then given to Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, by exchange before 984. Probably attached to the Richmond fee by 1066 and by 1155 the church owed to MSM a £2 pension still due in the mid 13th century.
St Hilary — church. Dedicated to St Hilary of Poitiers, mostly destroyed by fire in 1853 but C13th tower and spire survive. See Dupont.
St Clement, Moresk, Truro — church mentioned in 1207 and later, given by King Edward IV, as part of the possessions of the monastery of SMM, the tythes later passing to the monastery of Syon.
St Michael's Mount — priory. Possibly existed as a priory before the Conquest. Date of its gift to MSM in doubt owing to the dubious nature of charters attributed by MSM monks to Edward The Confessor and Robert de Mortain. Surviving priory built by Bernard du Bec from 1135 (consacrated 1144) for 13 monks but rarely housing more than 4 or 5 by C14th. Parish church today dependant of St Hilary (note: near Mousehole is St Clement's Isle - a small rocky islet which apparently had a St Clement's chapel; also: Piers St Aubyn designed Marazion parish church All Saints, consecrated 1861, the third church on the site, the first recorded in 1309).
Truthwall — land and market in tin mining area lose to St Michael's Mount, perhaps acquired from Robert de Mortain (if not before) [note: Domesday mentions St Michael's Church].
Ludgvan — land in tin mining area, near St Michael's Mount, perhaps acquired from Robert de Mortain (if not before)
Trevalga — Michel Mollat says MSM was granted rights by William the Conqueror over the port of this village on the north Cornish coast near Tintagel. There is no evidence that its C12th church (St Petroc) belonged to MSM.
Constantine — land in tin mining area, Lizard.
St Martin-in-Meneage — land in tin mining area, Lizard.
Ruan Minor — land in tin mining area, Lizard.
St Keverne — land in tin mining area, Lizard.
Otterton — priory of St Michael, gift of William l, existed before 1087, probably the largest asset of MSM in England, incorporating the parish church and substantial estates nearby and around Sidmouth. Formerly held by Countess Ghida. Navigable from the sea in mediaeval times. Its foundation for four monks by King John is recorded in 1332 when it was temporarily alienated for £120 but may have been reoccupied by a monk. Supressed in 1414 and granted to Syon Abbey. Dupont details its possessions. Michel Mollat says MSM was granted rights to its port and fisheries. The late C11th tower at the east end of the present Victorian church of St Michael's may be a remnant of the mediaeval priory. It is thought that a chancel stood to the east of the tower and that the monks used a passage from the second storey which linked to an arch in the wall of their cell. Several flat tombstones found before 1775 were thought to have lain in the chancel. On the death of a serf the prior took his best beast in his secular capacity and the second-best in his spiritual capacity.
Budleigh — acquired from Henry l, worth £3, south of Otterton.
Yarcombe — church of St John the Baptist. Formerly held by Harold, worth £3. Gift of William l. By 1264 the church and a mill were administered by Otterton.
Dennington — with Stout Hill, Yarcombe, woodland, pasture and land, gift of William l, formerly held by Harold, worth £2 [and church of St Nicholas?] Dupont calls this Donnington or Dotton.
Withycombe — parcels of land, west of Budleigh and Otterton.
Woodbury — church of St Swithin plus land worth 20s. Gift of William l, dominated by huge late Iron Age fort, founded in late 7th century when the Saxons colonised East Devon. A royal manor and important enough to have a parish gild in C11th century, north west of Otterton.
Harpford — church of St Nicholas. Held by 1206 when mentioned in a charter. Manor formerly held by canons of Coutances. "...the Church (St. Gregory,) is a venerable fabric, with a tower and three bells, and was appropriated in 1205 to the Abbey of St Michael de Monte, and afterwards to Sion monastery...", 5km NW of Sidmouth.
Venn Ottery — chapel dependent of Harpford church, very close to Harpford. Its status is cited in 1267 (and also a little earlier).
Sidmouth — church. Held in 1086 by canons of Rouen, granted in 1212 by Bishop Marshall to MSM, of which the Priory of Otterton was a cell. It held revenues in the church, town, mills, woods, market, fishing and everything pertaining to it. Church rebuilt in 1859/60, only the tower and arcade on each side of the nave are original. [See Dupont]. The Otterton market recorded in 1086 may have been held at Sidmouth and in 1281 the Sidmouth market was recorded as if it were at Otterton. The chapel of St Peter recorded in 1322 was demolished in 1805 but part of a wall remains visible at the Esplanade.
Stoodleigh — church, near West Buckland, not mentioned after 1179, probably exchanged for Harpford.
Forsham — land held from Baldwin the Sheriff, worth 30s (check... no references...)
Hederland — chapel of ease dependent of St Michael's church, Otterton, mentioned in 1206 charter, mention of chapels 1257 and of 'land'.
Basing — church, tithes and land worth £4 5s. Dupont says church plus chapels or maybe three churches. Not noted by Millénaire St Mary's Church Old Basing?]
Basingstoke — church and dependent chapels, gift of William l [note important C14th St Michael's Church in Basingstoke]
Selborne — church and possible chapels. In Robert de Torigny's gift of Basing church he says he also held Selborne church and the fruits of both were given to MSM. Impressive C12th St Mary's Church is still in existance.
Martock — All Saints Church and dependent chapels, the church the second largest in Somerset. Mentioned in 1175 by Bishop of Winchester as given (re-given?) to MSM.
South Heighton — church [not noted by Millénaire] appears to have been lost/abandoned: "Land at The Hall, Heighton Road, South Heighton, East Sussex. Archaeological Evaluation Report Score, D Oxford : Oxford Archaeological Unit, 2000, 16pp, figs, tabs, refs Work undertaken by: Oxford Archaeological Unit. An archaeological evaluation was undertaken in respect of a planning application for two residential dwellings. The evaluation revealed the remains of a substantial flint and mortar wall foundation, which was interpreted as the west end of St Martin's Church, a building identified from historical maps. The line of the north wall return was also noted and appeared to have been constructed on a chalk platform cut into the natural slope of the hill. A feature interpreted as the foundation pit for a buttress and deposits inside the church area forming a make-up for what would have been the church floor were also recorded as well as robber trench and demolition deposits. A number of post holes to the north of the church were seen and probably related to a building contemporaneous with the church. A stone baptismal font still in existence at the site was also photographed but no evidence for associated burials was found in the evaluation trenches. MD, PM, MO, UD."
Wooton Rivers — two churches and some land, gift of William l, See Wooton Rivers. [Dupont records only one un-named church.] "A church belonging to the abbey of Mont St. Michel (Manche) stood at Wootton Rivers in 1086; it was one of two churches on the estate called Wootton, the second of which may have stood at Easton. In the Middle Ages the rectory was poor: it was valued at £5 in 1291, was exempt from taxation because of its poverty in the late 15th century, and was valued at £8 in 1535. In the early 13th century Wootton Rivers church was served by a rector, and the abbey was entitled to a pension from its revenues. In 1212 the abbey of Mont St. Michel and Walter de Rivers, lord of Wootton Rivers manor, agreed that each should present alternate rectors. There is no evidence that the abbey ever presented, and the advowson descended with the lordship of the manor. Besides the village, the parish contains East Wick Farm, which possibly stands on the site of what was a small village in the Middle Ages. The suffix in the parish's name is the surname of lords of the principal manor and was in use in the 14th century. In 1300 the land between the eastern arms at the north and south ends of the parish, which either was or might soon have become part of the parish, was probably woodland and was defined as a southern tail of Savernake forest. It remained part of the forest in 1330, when the land east and west of it was disafforested, and as Brimslade it remained extra-parochial until the 19th century. Wootton Rivers parish measured 1,200 a. (486 ha.)... Sharp bends in the boundary with Milton Lilbourne may be partly the result of a compromise between the rector of Wootton Rivers and the appropriator of Milton Lilbourne church who disputed tithes c. 1215 and c. 1327... There were 51 poll-tax payers at Wootton Rivers in 1377; they presumably included the inhabitants of East Wick... The church, the rectory house, and the demesne farmstead of Wootton Rivers manor stand as a group at the south end of the village. The church stands on rising ground and, when it was built in the 14th century, replaced a church which may have stood on a lower site."
Wath, Ripon — St Mary's church. [See Dupont who cites confusions over three places called Wath in Yorkshire and whether the church depended from York or Durham.] Perhaps the gift of Breton Count Brien or Alan, dedicated to St Mary, see Wath: "Before the Conquest a 'manor' and 6 carucates in Wath were held by Archil and Roschil, but in 1086 they were part of the demesne of Count Alan, and the overlordship remained with his successors. The whole of Wath and the church were granted before 1156 to the abbey of Mont St. Michel. In spite of this it seems clear that Alan, the fourth Lord of Richmond, who died in 1146, granted it to Brian, Lord of Bedale, whose successors retained a mesne lordship here, and that Brian or his son enfeoffed of it one of the ancestors of the Marmions, probably Gernegan son of Hugh, against whom the monks of Mont St. Michel brought a plea concerning land in Wath in 1176–77. Brian's elder brother, Conan Earl of Richmond, had confirmed his predecessor's grant to the abbey, but the dispute was carried on for more than sixty years. In 1239 the matter was carried to the Papal Court. It was then stated on behalf of the abbot and convent that the grant of the manor by the late Earl of Richmond had been confirmed by successive Kings of England, and that they had always had two monks on the manor, but that Sir Robert Marmion, kt., claimed it in right of his wife Avis daughter of Gernegan. The predecessor of the then abbot had been summoned before the king's court, and Robert Marmion 'offered to prove by duel that the manor was his, which challenge, although he had other defence, the late abbot indiscreetly accepted. The combatants fought in a place appointed by the king, the knight bringing a multitude of armed men, and the knight's champion was more than once brought to the ground, on which the knight's party interfered to rescue him, and threatened death to the abbot and his champion, so that the abbot, fearing that death would ensue, came to the spot and renounced his right, which renunciation the knight would not admit save by way of peace and payment of a sum of money.' The abbot and convent prayed that the renunciation, made without the consent of the convent, might be annulled, and the pope summoned the parties before him. The Marmions were apparently the successful claimants. From at least 1243, when Avis Marmion obtained a grant of free warren in her demesne lands here, the manor followed the descent of West Tanfield until the latter part of the 19th century, when it was purchased from the trustees of the third Marquess of Ailesbury by the family of Newsome of Dewsbury, who are now in possession."
Wyberton — church and 12 acres, perhaps from the Breton Count Brien or Alan, church of St Leger/Leodgar...

Vale — priory of St Michael Vale may have had a priory church separate from the parish church of St Michael mentioned by Adrian lV and Alexander lll which records its rights to three other churches, its mills, fishing, port, etc. It appears the priory held the churches of Castel, St Pierre-du-Bois, St Saviour and Vale as well as the village of Goualle. Christianity arrived here at least by ca. AD 600, perhaps introduced by St Magloire to whom a chapel was dedicated which later belonged to MSM now vanished. Benedictine monks of MSM came to Guernsey ca. 968 establishing a Priory of Mont St Michel in the north of the Guernsey which then formed a separate island at high tide. The last remaining evidence is a piece of buttressed wall and part of a gateway south of the church, perhaps the site of the priory buildings and a separate priory church. There appears to have been a room over the gateway, indicate perhaps a court of justice. [See Dupont]
Castel — parish church of Ste Marie de Castel (Guernésiais: Lé CastÉ French: Sainte-Marie-du-Câtel). Largest parish in Guernsey, renowned for medieval frescos and pre-Christian neolithic menhir in the churchyard, thought to be carved to represent a female fertility symbol. Mentioned in papal documents in 1158. Mentioned as dependant of MSM by 1280.
St Saviour — parish church, islands part of the Duchy of Normandy in AD 933, St Saviour's Church mentioned in a charter ca. 1030 by which Duke Robert of Normandy assigned the church, and three others in Guernsey, to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St Michel in Normandy, the gift confirmed by his son Duke William (the Conqueror) in 1048, and by Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspeare, the only English Pope) in 1155, the present church containing C12th elements.
St Peter — St Pierre du Bois parish church. Given to MSM in ca. 1280, the present church was built around 1375 and added to in the 15th century. [See Dupont]
Lihou — the priory of St. Mary, probably ruined in C18th, was situated on island of Notre Dame de Lihou accessible at low tide. Believed to have been established by Benedictine monks in the 12th century. The unpopularity of the monks with the local people may have be due to the monks' insistence on rights of wreck. Approaching sailors said to have dipped their masts to it. Until 1415 it was under the control of MSM, thereafter under Eton College until the Reformation when it was closed and fell into disrepair. Remains of priory walls and a chapel visible. The house on Lihou was used for target practice by heavy artillery during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Now an educational resource.
St George — chapel, one of two chapels (St Anne's at King's Mills) in St Saviour's [JM says Câtel] parish on Route Deslisles, demolished in the 18th century, near the estate bearing his name can be found the feudal courthouse of the Fief Le Compte and the holy well of St George thought to have healing properties. See Dupont re Comte/Earl of Chester.
Jethou — church. Archaeological traces of what may have been the chapel or church, mentioned in a papal bull in 1156, were discovered in 2007. Michel Mollat says this island of hermits was granted to the monks around 1100 by Rastaud, one of Duke Robert's sea captains, who nevertheless retained its revenues for his lifetime.
Sark — chapel of St Magloire. Richard de Vernon confirms, ca. 1190, his father's earlier gift of the chapel to MSM in 1160 but this is not, says Dupont, the parish church of St Magloire mentioned in C12th charters. Michel Mollat says that Duke Robert accorded rights to the monks on Alderney and Sark in return for taking back half of Guernsey.
St Clement — priory. Scarcely ever more than two monks. Traces of foundations have been found in the south-west of the parish, near the cemetery. There is a Priory Farm in the parish today. See Dupont for details of building of an oratory in 1172.
St Ouen — parish church (originally cruciform in shape). Given to MSM with its land and a house at the same time as St Mary at Lecq by Philippe de Carteret (see charter 1167, or maybe as early as 1156... see Dupont). In 1285 his son Renaud dropped proceedings to reclaim it. The gift was probably associated with a member of his family becoming a monk at MSM. The chapel of St George at Vinchelez de Bas was given to MSM by Alain de Vinchelez at the same time. At that time he owned Vinchelez 'de Bas' and 'de Haut', then one manor. The chapel disappeared long ago (though described in 1606) but its cemetery is beside the entrance to the Manoir de Bas. The Clos St George is still well-known. [Dom de Camps says MSM lost the church to "the puritan heretics"!]
Lecq — priory and chapel of St Mary in parish of St Ouen of which it may have held the curacy. Given to MSM in 1167 by Philippe de Carteret.

[Not all the estates noted by André Dupont in Essai d'un Catalogue Critique des Églises et Chapelles dont le Patronage Appartenait à l'Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel (1979) appear in the Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel (1966). But his findings do generally accord with much more detailed English records to which he has, however, made no reference.]

Were two 'charters' that supposedly gave St Michael's Mount to Mont-Saint-Michel mediaeval forgeries?

Edward The Confessor's charter:

Mme Fauroux, in her work Recueil des Actes des Ducs de Normandie, publishes the charter of Edward The Confessor, apparently giving St Michael's Mount to the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel, dating it to 1027-1035 or more likely 1033-1034. She believes that although it seems suspect at first sight (given that Robert the Magnificent countersigns a charter naming Edward as king when he in fact he didn't begin his reign in 1042) one could consider it contemporaneous with the set-back facing Duke Robert of Normandy in his attempt to get the exiled prince Edward repatriated. (Edward was then in exile with his brother Alfred while Canute and his sons ruled in England.)

"His fleet was repulsed at Jersey and then they passed, both of them presumably, to Mont-Saint-Michel. Edward's presence at Mont-Saint-Michel might have provided the opportunity to offer a gift to the monks which would scarecely cost him anything as well as underlining 'diplomatically' his title as king."

Her conjecture is convincingly dismissed by P.L. Hull, archivist to Cornwall County Council, who says there is no evidence that Edward visited MSM, that he would not have called himself king while Canute was still on the throne and that he would have had no title to the lands concerned. Furthermore, at the date she suggests, how could the solemn curse on infringers of the charter be promulgated.

Similarly, M.D.J.A. Matthew (in Norman Monasteries) is not convinced by Mme Fauroux: "In the late eleventh century the monks appear to have been in serious trouble with the mighty Robert of Mortain and it is tempting possibility that this charter was concocted about the same time, to defend claims to lands which their canon predecessors on the Cornish Mount may even have enjoyed, but for which the monks could find no documentary proof. This would explain the violence of 'Edward's' language; the monks may also have preferred to compose a Norman charter and not to risk too much by inventing an English one."

Robert de Mortain's charter:

H.W.C. Davis and R.J. Whitwell (in Ragesta) consider the 'gift' by Robert de Mortain as spurious: "The fabrication of a charter attributed to Robert would, however, have been made only after his death, and probably after the death of Henry l, who might have remembered that he had witnessed no such document, even as a lad."

P.L. Hull is not convinced by the authenticity of the "inflated and spurious" copy in the MSM Cartulary of the so-called gift by Robert de Mortain. But while he sees inconsistencies in its supposed 'original' he remains open to its authenticity and certainly he sees no evidence for the claim that the original donors were the Breton counts who appear to have held much of Cornwall prior to the arrival of Robert de Mortain. However, he also finds serious problems with a supposed copy of the original, now preserved in Exeter. The arguments he presents are complicated, going as far as suggesting someone's adulterated copy of the supposed original became the source for someone else's adulterated and supposedly authentic copy of the original. But he is uncertain whether the forgery was begun in Normandy (well accustomed to forgery) or in England under Norman influence. However, even if Robert de Mortain did not found the priory at SMM, he sees no reason to doubt that Robert de Mortain, with his second wife Almodis, made this possible and made grants to "St Michael and the monks" (of the Norman abbey) including: the manor of Ludgvan and the holding of Bloyou in the manor of Truthwall in Ludgvan and St Hilary and both the fairs of the Mount. This accords with the Domesday account. For detailed analysis of his arguments, see his intriguing article in Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel (1967).

Précis of the work by D. Matthew, Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool, on the relationship between Mont-Saint-Michel and England in mediaeval times

William the Conqueror gave MSM several estates in south Devon, easily accessible by sea from west Normandy. The most valuable of these was Otterton which increased in value between 1066 and 1086 and was worth £18 thanks to its salt pans, mills, fields, woodland and pasture.

William then gave them Denington, Stout Hill in Yarcombe and Woodbury church which had belonged to King Harold and were worth £2, £3 and 20 shillings respectively. The monks also held Forsham from Baldwin the sheriff, worth 30 shillings in 1086. Buddleigh was acquired later from Henry l.

But William had early on given the monks estates in other counties so that in 1086 they held Cholsey (Berks), Basingstoke (Hants), Wooton Rivers (Wilts) and it was probably William who gave them Wargrave (Berks), Selbourne (Hants) and Martock (Somerset). These were valuable assets and easily accessible from Southampton. Churches could be as valuable as manors, e.g. Henry l offered them the Buddleigh estate (worth £12) in exchange for the churches at Cholsey and Wargrave.

It is unclear when the monks first acquired property in Cornwell but it appears they bought an estate in Truthwall from Robert of Mortain which, in 1086, was said to be been taken earlier by Robert from Saint-Michael. It is likely that the Breton counts gave Cornish property to the monks (perhaps Counts Brien and Alan whose family had become substantial landowners in Cornwall after the Conquest). Certainly the monks acquired churches from them at Wath (N. Riding, Yorks) and Wyberton (Lincs) which were subsequently associated with the Cornish property. [P.J. Hull sees no evidence for such a Breton gift].

By the reign of Henry ll the monks had acquired interests at Sidmouth (which had belonged to the canons of Rouen in 1086), some parcels of land at Withycumbe and the church at Stoodleigh which, after 1179, they may have exchanged for the nearer Harpford church which they held by 1206.

By the C13th the monks used their property holdings to make a series of sophisticated and very profitable 'arrangements' with some of the most powerful men in the land which not only won them friends in high places but assured them long-term pension income.

Less successful was the loss of their rights to Wooton Rivers in a legal dispute in 1211. But the most serious loss of all was Wath 'priory' and the church of Wyberton. Others had contested the ownership as early as 1177 and the monks' hold on the properties diminished after complex claims, counter-claims and eventual dispersal to powerful and influential figures.

Though these losses effectively ended the Norman monks' adminsitrative power over English territory, it had the effect of winning for them influential friends in high places in England.

Spiritual links between MSM and religious houses England were slim. The monks record a society and fraterrnity with Bath while English records show a similar relationship at Hyde, and it was through Hyde that St Mary's York observed St Michael 'de periculo maris' (William the Conqueror having appointing Ruald, prior of MSM, as abbot of Hyde).

There may have been other associations of prayer as monks from MSM were appointed abbots in Engand. William became abbot of Cerne after the Conquest and his obit was remembered at MSM, together with that of abbot Robert (another monk from MSM, who was appointed abbot under Henry ll) and that of Scolland (treasurer of MSM) who became abbot of St Augustine's Canterbury. Another monk, Serlo, became abbot of Gloucester under the Conqueror without establishing any long term relationship.

No other link between MSM and relgious houses appears to exist except that the living tradition of Anglo-Saxon art in Canterbury may have influenced the development of illustrated manuscripts at MSM in the early C12th.

MSM's religious communities in England were never very large. The Otterton Cartulary says that 13 monks lived at the priory of St Michael's Mount, founded in the mid-C12th. By the C14th the prior was sometimes alone. A royal enquiry at Otterton, in July-November 1332, learned that there was provision for four monks. At Wath the abbot said he had places for two more. And throughout England the estates might never have supported more than a dozen monks. By the late C14th Otterton's abbot could provide just two places, while SMM might have taken more but had fewer revenues that Otterton. Despite this the abbot at MSM seems to have expected Otterton to operate a monastic chapter!

The following thumbnail pictures are references for which exhibition 'reproduction permissions' may be needed.

Voir: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, l'Étain, le Bronze et l'Âge des Cloches

See: Mont-Saint-Michel and the Cornish Tin Trade

Voir: Le Mont-Saint-Michel et l'Étain de la Cornouaille

See: Mont-Saint-Michel and St Michael's Mount

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