Historical Timeline of Mont Saint Michel

6th-7th Century AD: The rocky island was first inhabited by Celtic people, later conquered by Romans, and was known as Mont Tombe.

708 AD: According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches, instructing him to build an oratory on the rocky islet.

966 AD: A community of Benedictine monks settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and started the construction of an abbey.

1023 AD: The Romanesque Abbey Church was founded.

1067 AD: The abbey of Mont Saint Michel was given financial support by William the Conqueror, in gratitude for his victory at Hastings, which the monks had prayed for.

1203 AD: Philip Augustus, King of France, after occupying Normandy, financed the construction of the Gothic sections of two three-story buildings.

1204 AD: The Mont was burnt during the war between the French and English, but rebuilt in the following years. The abbey was extended, marking the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.

1228 AD: A fire destroyed the buildings of the abbey. Reconstruction works were financed by Louis IX.

1256 AD: Construction of “La Merveille” or “The Marvel,” the abbey’s iconic three-story structure, was completed.

1308 AD: Philip the Fair held the Grand Council at Mont Saint Michel.

1421 AD: The Romanesque choir of the abbey church collapsed and was replaced by the gothic Flamboyant choir, standing today.

1469 AD: Louis XI established a special prison at the abbey for political prisoners there, marking a decline for the monument.

1786 AD: The abbey was officially closed and turned into a prison due to its immense cost and poor conditions. Over the next 80 years, it housed up to 14,000 prisoners.

1791 AD: During the French Revolution, the abbey remained in use as a prison.

1863 AD: Victor Hugo led a campaign to close the prison after the publication of his pamphlet, “Mémoire sur le projet de restauration de Mont-Saint-Michel.”

1874 AD: The abbey was declared a historic monument by the French government. Over the next few decades, it underwent major restoration work.

An old Mont Saint Michel postcard.
An old Mont Saint Michel postcard (more old MSM images here)

1944 AD: The Mont was spared from damage during the Second World War. Its image was used to represent French freedom and resilience.

1966 AD: A small community of monks returned to the abbey to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the mount and the abbey.

1979 AD: UNESCO designated the Mont Saint Michel and its bay a World Heritage site.

1998 AD: The new brotherhood of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem replaced the Benedictine monks, and they continue to welcome pilgrims and tourists.

2001 AD: The population of the small island peaked at around 30 people.

2006 AD: A project was undertaken to prevent silting of the bay and maintain the island’s character. It involved the construction of a hydraulic dam and the destruction of the causeway that connected the island to the mainland, replaced by a light bridge.

2012 AD: A new set of mobile walkways, allowing the waters to flow freely around the island and improving the stability of the island, were installed.

2015 AD: The completion of the dam project allowed the waters to once again flow freely around the island, maintaining it as a true island.

2023 AD: Ongoing preservation efforts continue, keeping this historical gem alive and attracting tourists and religious pilgrims alike. It remains one of France’s most iconic landmarks and attracts more than 3 million people each year.