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Macron marks 1,000 year anniversary of iconic Mont-Saint-Michel

By RFI
Europe AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN
MON, 05 JUN 2023 LISTEN
AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN

France's iconic abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is celebrating 1,000 years since the laying of its first stone in 923, with President Emmanuel Macron marking the occasion in Normandy on the eve of the 79th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The one-thousand-year commemoration of the UNESCO World Heritage site is being celebrated through to November with exhibits, dance shows and concerts.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the abbey, where he called on the French people to "go beyond" 21st-century challenges, reflecting on the "trials of time" endured by Mont-Saint-Michel, calling it a symbol of a certain "French spirit."

Macron also viewed a new exhibit tracing the Romanesque abbey's history via 30 objects and pieces, including a restored statue of Saint Michael.

Legend has it that the Archangel Michael appeared in 708, duly instructing the bishop of nearby Avranches to build him a church on the rocky outcrop.

Millions for restoration of 'architectural jewel'

The exhibit – two years in the making – opened last month and covers the complex process of building what is considered an architectural jewel on a rocky island linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway at low tide. 

Four crypts were constructed on the granite tip along with a church on top. The exhibit explains how the original structure, built in 966, became too small for pilgrims, spurring on the builders to create the 11th century abbey that stands to this day. 

France has spent more than €32 million over 15 years to restore the building, and the work is nearing completion.

In recent years, the French authorities have also tried to protect the monument's surrounding environment from the impact of mass tourism.

One of the most popular French destinations outside Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel attracted 2.8 million visitors last year, including 1.3 million to the abbey.

The site was not closed to visitors for during Monday's presidential visit, but local authorities took measures for it to go as smoothly as possible.

D-Day commemorations

Meanwhile on Tuesday morning, Emmanuel Macron will travel to Colleville-Montgomery – the site of the D-Day landings – to attend the annual commemoration organised by the French Marine Rifles rather than the traditional 6 June ceremonies, which are taking place at Ver-sur-Mer and will be presided over by Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu.

Macron will be joined by 100-year-old Léon Gautier – the last living Frenchman to have taken part in the D-Day landings – to present green berets to military recruits who recently completed their commando training course.

The presence of the French head of state is intended as a tribute to the 177 Frenchmen who landed on 6 June 1944 as part of the Kieffer Commando Unit, alongside 132,000 Allied Forces.

President Macron also use the occasion to officially set up a public interest group that will be responsible for the preparation of the 80th anniversary commemorations taking place in 2024. 

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