difficult works were completed by 1228. The Marvel began at 160 feet (49 meters) above the sea and consisted of three terraced levels. The lowest housed the almonry and cellar. The second was taken up by the kitchens; a huge refectory with timber barrel vaults; a guest hall, adorned with tapestries, stained glass, and glazed tiles; and a scriptorium (now called the “hall of the knights”). At the top was the monks’ dormitory and a beautiful arcaded, vaulted cloister attributed to Raoul de Villedieu.

In contrast to that tranquil security, the Marvel has been described as “half military, half monastic.” Louis IX visited the Mont in 1254 and later helped to pay for its fortification. Strategically located, it acquired a defensive role and housed a garrison jointly paid by king and abbot. Through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both the abbey and the town were enclosed by walls on the land side, adding another texture to the varied architecture of the rock. Frequently attacked, it would never be captured, even remaining unconquered when English armies took most of the fortresses of Normandy early in the fifteenth century.

There was a series of structural failures in the abbey church. In 1300, one of de Torigny’s west towers fell down. More serious was the collapse in 1421 of Hildebert’s Romanesque choir. France was still at war with England, and all thought of reconstruction was deferred until 1446, when a massive base known as the Crypt of the Large Pillars was built as foundation for a replacement building. Work on the new choir began in 1450 and it was completed in 1521. Apsidal in plan, with radiating chevet chapels, it was naturally built in the contemporary, highly ornate French style, appropriately named flamboyant because of the flamelike patterns of its window tracery. Other architectural failures followed: in 1618 the de Toringy west facade started to collapse, and eventually it was pulled down in 1776, together with, the three western bays of the nave.

The monastic foundation seemed to decline with the buildings. Although by the twelfth century under de Toringy, the Benedictine abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel had acquired fame for its intellectual life, drawing pilgrims from across Europe, about a century later its power had begun to slowly wane. As the balance of its role tipped from devotion to defense, the size of the community decreased. In 1523 it was granted in commendam to Cardinal Le Veneur, the series of commendatory abbots continuing until 1622—by then hardly any monks remained—when control passed to the reformed congregation of St. Maur. In turn, the Maurist monks were dispossessed during the French Revolution. From 1790 the abbey, its name ironically changed to Mont Libre (Mount Freedom), was used to incarcerate criminals and political prisoners. Napoléon III abolished the prison in 1863. Having gone full circle, the buildings were leased to the Bishop of Avranches until 1874, when the Commission des Monuments Historiques appointed the architect E. E. Viollet-le-Duc to restore it. In 1966, in recognition of the monastery’s millennium, the French government allowed the resumption of monastic life on Mont-Saint-Michel; since then a community of monks, nuns, and lay oblates lives in a part of the abbey, reviving the ministry to pilgrims.

This has been a complicated story, whose point is just this: the architectural feat of Mont-Saint-Michel was not achieved in a day, a month, or a year. The harmony and the unity of its parts, diverse in date, style, and function, took 500 years to realize.

Further reading

Bony, Jean. 1983. French Gothic Architecture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Braunfels, Wolfgang. 1993. Monasteries of Western Europe: The Architecture of the Orders. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Froidevaux, Yves-Marie, and Jacques Boulas. 1965. Le Mont Saint-Michel: Photographies de Jacques Boulas. Paris: Librarie Hachette.

Mount Rushmore

South Dakota

The broad granite southeast face of 5,725-foot (1,750-meter) Mount Rushmore, neat Rapid City, South Dakota, is carved with the massive portrait heads of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. For its sheer engineering ingenuity and