“And there was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels. And they prevailed not…” (Apocalypse 12:7)
Off the coast of Normandy, France, there is a marvelous rocky island where Saint Michael appeared to Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in 708. Nowhere is Saint Michael’s presence more keenly felt than at Mont Saint Michel.
Treasure of Christendom
Once known as the Tomb on the Hill, this medieval abbey-fortress was built in honor of Saint Michael. Today, pilgrims can still admire the marvels of this dazzling monument which typifies the sublime virtues of the warrior-monk, of bravery and fortitude.
Its lofty steeple speaks of the monastic life and sacrality; of something higher, something heavenly, something more than mere stone. Its beauty transcends stone and mortar and lifts the soul to a higher plain. What is this spirit? Did the Archangel bestow some of his spiritual beauty upon this mount?
Somehow, the monument allows us to form a supernatural glimpse of Saint Michael. There is something spiritual about it; something sublime that transcends art, and is apparent to those with refined spiritual perception.
If this monument reveals the soul of the warrior-monk, who prays and fights, we can understand how much more beautiful is the spirit of an Angel. The spirit of Saint Michael is more beautiful than the soul of a monk, because he is a “monk” in the immense monastery of Heaven, where there is a perfect Abbess, Our Lady, and above the Abbess, an infinitely perfect Abbot, God Our Lord.
Devotion to Warrior Angels
In the Middle Ages, men had a great devotion to Angels, especially the warrior Angels. They understood how the Angels waged the first battle against evil in history. The chief knight was Saint Michael. Therefore, the spirit of the Crusades, the spirit of Chivalry, and the spirit of this mount reflect Saint Michael.
Now, let’s visit the abbey, a fortress-Church. One can imagine monks chanting the office and one can also imagine knights in full armor, resisting the enemy on the walls.
Picture, if you can, magnificent libraries… monks studying; in another hall, artisans writing gold-leafed gothic letters on parchment, or cutting stones to decorate an unfinished pillar. Suddenly, a trumpet blast cuts the silent air. At once, the order of Chivalry that resides here responds. Knights rush to the gates, repel the enemy and defend the monks.
The island is a synthesis of prayer, study, recollection, art and combat. All of these qualities stem from a rich spiritual life.
Think About God
The finest location is given to the chapel. The chapel sets the tone for everything else. There are places also dedicated to war and study. But what unites the buildings and gives the island unity is the Church steeple. It is like a paper weight resting on other papers and seems to say: “the wind will not blow these buildings away. They will stay right where they are.” And the Church steeple points to Heaven, beckoning the faithful to think about God.
Editor’s note: This commentary was inspired by a talk given by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira about Saint Michael.