Yesterday, I got an email from the author and director of a documentary on Mont Saint-Michel being produced for BBC France. Denis Sneguirev asked me whether I could provide him with information about the development of the abbey just off of the Norman coast of France – in particular, “building techniques of ancient times as well as all the practical details of such a construction (finance, working force, masters and skills, etc.)” in three periods of its early history:
– Roman Abbaye (Xth century)
– La Merveille (Gothic period, XIII century)
– Defensive architecture (XIV-XV century).
I wrote him back saying I had no information – that he somehow had mistaken me for some sort of expert. I thanked him for his pleasing error and volunteered to write a post about his project and send it out in the hope that someone among my readers, on TradArch or another architectural discussion group, would see it and either provide Denis with the information or direct him to someone who could.
Denis must have seen “Mont Saint-Michel of old,” my recent post posting postcards of Saint-Michel acquired by the parents of my old friend John Bernot, an engineer in Washington, D.C., and a longtime aficionado of the jazz combo Sun Ra, really an ensemble, which Sun Ra called his Arkestra, and in our youth we’d travel up from the District to Baltimore to hear it.
Denis informed me that he was seeking English-speaking voices to provide the film with “some international aura.” After noting that, he added: “I have also to say that I believe nobody’s better than Anglo-Saxons in story telling. I [already] have some contacts in Reading and York universities with some specialists of Gothic architecture and 100 Years’ War.” To give me a better idea of the scope of the documentary, for TV RMC Découverte, Denis then listed the chapter topics of the script, thus far conceived:
1) Creation of the first Sanctuary and Saint-Aubert’s legend.
2) Norman’s expansion and role given to Mont Saint-Michel by the Normandy’s rulers in the 10th-11th century.
3) How was built the Roman abbaye on the Mount? Reasons and technics. Where does the prestige of the place come from?
4) Building Saint-Michel’s empire. Second monastery in Cornwall. Role of the monastery in local politics; reasons of its rising.
5) Building of La Merveille. Technics of the Gothic construction. All practical details of such an entreprise.
6) Mont Saint-Michel during 100 Years’ War and organisation of its defense.
7) Natural disasters in Mont Saint-Michel and the damages they caused.
8) “La bastille of the seas.” XVIII-XIX century when Mont Saint-Michel becomes a prison.
9) Restoration work in Mont Saint-Michel in XIX-XX centuries.
10) Benefits and problems caused by mass tourism.
11) Technical challenge of recent project in Mont Saint-Michel (2009-2015)
Mont Saint-Michel’s extraordinary beauty and its romantic location half a mile off the Norman coastline enthrall me to no end, and getting there is on my bucket list. But even if I never do, I hope to see Denis’s documentary when it airs.
If anyone can help him out with information or source referrals, I will refer you to him or you can email him at email@example.com.
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How about contacting David Macauley? Although he’s not a specialist, “Cathedral” explains the construction of Gothic buildings in a very accessible way.
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I’ve visited the Mont Saint-Michel on a number of occasions. I find it to be an inspiring, thoughtful place. I leave always feeling refreshed after a day there. I’m due for a visit this year. Best wishes on locating this information.
First of all, Mont Saint-Michel is not a cathedral, it’s an abbey church. Secondly there are no doubt lots of Brits who could give your guy colorful international flavor, especially since the English are such good story tellers. If Denis wants that American accent, tell him to get in touch with Edson Armee at U,C, Santa Barbara. He’s probably to most knowledgeable Romanesque architectural authority in the country.
Thanks for the head’s up, Robert. Seems like a cathedral to me, but you are correct.