MINERVA 14th May 2016 Part 3 St. Malo
Monday 16th May 2016
This morning we are at sea, which is very pleasant; we are due to arrive at St. Malo at noon. After an early breakfast I went along to the Darwin Lounge for the Whitsunday Service at 9 a.m., including Holy Communion. I know it is Monday, but this morning was considered an ideal time whilst we are at sea. The Rev'd Canon Ian Ainsworth-Smith held an inter-denominational service, with a collection for the Mission to Seafarers, which is such a worthy cause. I had tea on deck, took some photos and looked at the swimming pool; the water temperature was shown as 13⁰C - still too cold for me.
Then at 10.30 a.m. it was time to go and hear the 3 Lecturers tell us about their talks on board. As well as Rev'd Canon Ian Ainsworth-Smith, they are Lady Christine Skelmersdale and Professor Gervase Phinn. During this 40 minute talk I noticed Brittany Ferries' BRETAGNE pass us.
We sailed into the St. Malo bay and tied up to two buoys, as rocks abound here, and we knew it would be a tender port.
I had an early lunch in the delightful Veranda Restaurant, ready to go ashore at 12.15 on the tender to the quayside. We were soon on a waiting coach, introduced to our guide Anne, and off on a coastal drive to Mont St. Michel. I had been looking forward to this particular excursion and as we drove beside wide beaches, along the beautiful green and lush coastline, the sun shone down and we all started to anticipate our first view of the Mont.
We drove over the reclaimed land known as the polders, along narrow lanes, and finally arrived at the Coach Park. This is all part of a huge 2009-2015 development (thank you UNESCO), which includes car, coach and motor home parking areas, a Tourist Information Centre with toilet facilities and a kennel (!), a new bus shuttle along The Passeur, a new walkway bridge beside the dam over the River Couesnon, built because of bad silting, a walkway 760 metres long from the shuttle to Mont St. Michel itself. We could see some of the tidal effects in the vast bay, with white 'rims' visible in many places; we heard that tides can be as high as 14 feet or more.
We are here to visit the monument of Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel, off the coast of Normandy in France, and I was really happy to be here. The island has a very small population of 50 in the actual village with storerooms, shops and housing, but ahead of us was a climb of many steps up from the village to visit the buildings on the rocks, culminating in the Abbey. The monastery was started in the 8th century on the rock of the island, and fortifications and great halls added, and then the abbey on the top was built in 11th/12th century. Outside the walls are the houses for the fishermen.
The statue of Saint Michael which is usually seen on the top of the building is currently away for renovation, removed by helicopter, so there is scaffolding around the steeple. The Mont is so large that the scaffolding is hardly noticeable.
Our guide Anne was extremely knowledgeable and gave us an interesting history of the buildings as we climbed, with lots of breathing stops, and gradually the views were revealed and showed just how strategically this Abbey was located. My one particular abiding memory was of our small group of perhaps 12 of us standing in the vast Refectory which had been used every day by the monks. Anne told us that the Benedictine monks then had a vow of silence, but during meals one of the monks would sit on steps hewn into the rock just above the tables, and recite Bible passages.
Having looked round the Refectory and seen we were the only group in there, Anne then started to chant on one note several verses from the Bible and did so for several minutes, just as the monk would have done. It was the most unforgettable thing to happen and I felt very fortunate to have experienced it. I think we were all amazed and thrilled at this young lady's talent for bringing such history alive in these surroundings.
Climbing back down the various steps, paths and walkways gave us several views back to the mainland, and soon our whole group met again for the return journey back to the coach and a fast inland journey back to the ship. What a spectacular visit this had been.
We were back on board at 7.30 p.m. a little later than scheduled, but I was soon washed and changed ready for dinner in the Swan Restaurant. Again I enjoyed good food and company. The evening entertainment in the Darwin Lounge at 9.30 p.m. was Opera del Mare, a talented group of singers/musicians who sang "Songs of the Sea" for us. One of the songs was "Where Corals Lie" from Edward Elgar, others from Gilbert & Sullivan (I had been to see HMS Pinafore only the previous week), Mozart, Benjamin Britten etc. and I really enjoyed the evening.
It had been a long and memorable day, and tomorrow we have a day at sea, as we sail towards Nantes.
Ships seen: Bretagne of Brittany Ferries leaving St. Malo as we sailed in, Minerva from the tender, Grand-Bé tug
To be continued...