Mont-Saint-Michel, a marvel of construction site

By Cédric Pietralunga

Posted on April 06, 2021 at 11:52 p.m., updated yesterday at 8:04 p.m.

The great black bird pierces the sky with a raging rotor. Under the helicopter’s cabin, held up by a simple steel rope, a pallet filled with roofing slates streaks through the milky white of the early morning, dispersing the gulls. Its destination: the Merveille restoration site, located on the northern flank of Mont-Saint-Michel (Manche), where the view is only the sea for the horizon.

Transporting materials by air is expensive, but it is the only way to access the scaffolding, which rises 140 meters above the waves, and from where the view of the bay is breathtaking. To complete the work, scheduled to last until 2023, 600 helicopter rotations are planned.

Launched at the end of 2020, the Merveille worksite promises to be extraordinary. By the place, first of all. La Merveille designates the immense stone building, built at the beginning of the 13th century.e century by Philippe Auguste, located behind the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. This is where the most prestigious rooms of the Norman abbey, such as the monks’ refectory or the cloister, are grouped together on three levels and 35 meters high, placed directly on the rocky outcrop and retained by immense buttresses. perched above the water, a jewel of flamboyant Gothic style. “La Merveille is a monastery built vertically, there is no equivalent building in the world”, assures François Saint-James, historian and in charge of cultural action at the Center des monuments nationaux (CMN), the public body which manages the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Helicopter hoisting of slates for the renovation works of the Merveille du Mont-Saint-Michel, in Normandy, March 30, 2021.

Exceptional, the site is also exceptional in its scope. Ninety tons of scaffolding were installed this winter on the side of the Merveille, to allow the thirty or so workers scheduled for the work to access the exterior walls and roofs of the building. “We work more than 45 meters from the ground, it is the height of the Arc de Triomphe”, laughs Philippe Besnard, the site manager of the company Degaine, a subsidiary of Vinci specializing in the renovation of old heritage. The man, who has been working on the Mount for thirty-one years, has seen others: he was one of those who raised the statue of the Archangel Saint Michael to the top of the spire of the abbey, during his restoration in 2016. A site located… 160 meters above sea level.

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In total, 8,500 square meters of facades of La Merveille will be restored, an area equivalent to that of the Stade de France lawn. “There was an emergency, stone blocks threatened to fall and risked injuring visitors, who pass at the foot of the building after their visit to the abbey”, explains Thomas Velter, the new administrator of Mont-Saint-Michel, who previously worked alongside ministers Bruno Le Maire and Franck Riester. Each year, some 2.4 million tourists pass through the King’s Gate, which gives access to the alleys of the fortified village, and 1.4 million of them visit the Benedictine abbey, where a dozen monks and nuns from the monastic fraternities of Jerusalem still live today. Like all monuments, the places have nevertheless been closed to the public since October 30, 2020.

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