Legend of Mont St. Michel by Guy de Maupassant
I had first seen it from Cancale, this fairy castle in the sea. I got an
indistinct impression of it as of a gray shadow outlined against the
misty sky. I saw it again from Avranches at sunset. The immense stretch
of sand was red, the horizon was red, the whole boundless bay was red.
The rocky castle rising out there in the distance like a weird,
seignorial residence, like a dream palace, strange and beautiful-this
alone remained black in the crimson light of the dying day.
The following morning at dawn I went toward it across the sands, my eyes
fastened on this, gigantic jewel, as big as a mountain, cut like a cameo,
and as dainty as lace. The nearer I approached the greater my admiration
grew, for nothing in the world could be more wonderful or more perfect.
As surprised as if I had discovered the habitation of a god, I wandered
through those halls supported by frail or massive columns, raising my
eyes in wonder to those spires which looked like rockets starting for the
sky, and to that marvellous assemblage of towers, of gargoyles, of
slender and charming ornaments, a regular fireworks of stone, granite
lace, a masterpiece of colossal and delicate architecture.
As I was looking up in ecstasy a Lower Normandy peasant came up to me and
told me the story of the great quarrel between Saint Michael and the
A sceptical genius has said: "God made man in his image and man has
returned the compliment."
This saying is an eternal truth, and it would be very curious to write
the history of the local divinity of every continent as well as the
history of the patron saints in each one of our provinces. The negro has
his ferocious man-eating idols; the polygamous Mahometan fills his
paradise with women; the Greeks, like a practical people, deified all the
Every village in France is under the influence of some protecting saint,
modelled according to the characteristics of the inhabitants.
Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and
victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious,
the conqueror of Satan.
But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and
tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and
To escape from the malice of his neighbor, the devil, Saint Michael built
himself, in the open ocean, this habitation worthy of an archangel; and
only such a saint could build a residence of such magnificence.
But as he still feared the approaches of the wicked one, he surrounded
his domains by quicksands, more treacherous even than the sea.
The devil lived in a humble cottage on the hill, but he owned all the
salt marshes, the rich lands where grow the finest crops, the wooded
valleys and all the fertile hills of the country, while the saint a ruled
only over the sands. Therefore Satan was rich, whereas Saint Michael was
as poor as a church mouse.
After a few years of fasting the saint grew tired of this state of
affairs and began to think of some compromise with the devil, but the
matter was by no means easy, as Satan kept a good hold on his crops.
He thought the thing over for about six months; then one morning he
walked across to the shore. The demon was eating his soup in front of his
door when he saw the saint. He immediately rushed toward him, kissed the
hem of his sleeve, invited him in and offered him refreshments.
Saint Michael drank a bowl of milk and then began: "I have come here to
propose to you a good bargain."
The devil, candid and trustful, answered: "That will suit me."
"Here it is. Give me all your lands."
Satan, growing alarmed, wished to speak "But—"
She saint continued: "Listen first. Give me all your lands. I will take
care of all the work, the ploughing, the sowing, the fertilizing,
everything, and we will share the crops equally. How does that suit you?"
The devil, who was naturally lazy, accepted. He only demanded in addition
a few of those delicious gray mullet which are caught around the solitary
mount. Saint Michael promised the fish.
They grasped hands and spat on the ground to show that it was a bargain,
and the saint continued: "See here, so that you will have nothing to
complain of, choose that part of the crops which you prefer: the part
that grows above ground or the part that stays in the ground." Satan
cried out: "I will take all that will be above ground."
"It's a bargain!" said the saint. And he went away.
Six months later, all over the immense domain of the devil, one could see
nothing but carrots, turnips, onions, salsify, all the plants whose juicy
roots are good and savory and whose useless leaves are good for nothing
but for feeding animals.
Satan wished to break the contract, calling Saint Michael a swindler.
But the saint, who had developed quite a taste for agriculture, went back
to see the devil and said:
"Really, I hadn't thought of that at all; it was just an accident, no
fault of mine. And to make things fair with you, this year I'll let you
take everything that is under the ground."
"Very well," answered Satan.
The following spring all the evil spirit's lands were covered with golden
wheat, oats as big as beans, flax, magnificent colza, red clover, peas,
cabbage, artichokes, everything that develops into grains or fruit in the
Once more Satan received nothing, and this time he completely lost his
temper. He took back his fields and remained deaf to all the fresh
propositions of his neighbor.
A whole year rolled by. From the top of his lonely manor Saint Michael
looked at the distant and fertile lands and watched the devil direct the
work, take in his crops and thresh the wheat. And he grew angry,
exasperated at his powerlessness.
As he was no longer able to deceive Satan, he decided to wreak vengeance
on him, and he went out to invite him to dinner for the following Monday.
"You have been very unfortunate in your dealings with me," he said; "I
know it, but I don't want any ill feeling between us, and I expect you to
dine with me. I'll give you some good things to eat."
Satan, who was as greedy as he was lazy, accepted eagerly. On the day
appointed he donned his finest clothes and set out for the castle.
Saint Michael sat him down to a magnificent meal. First there was a
'vol-au-vent', full of cocks' crests and kidneys, with meat-balls, then
two big gray mullet with cream sauce, a turkey stuffed with chestnuts
soaked in wine, some salt-marsh lamb as tender as cake, vegetables which
melted in the mouth and nice hot pancake which was brought on smoking and
spreading a delicious odor of butter.
They drank new, sweet, sparkling cider and heady red wine, and after each
course they whetted their appetites with some old apple brandy.
The devil drank and ate to his heart's content; in fact he took so much
that he was very uncomfortable, and began to retch.
Then Saint Michael arose in anger and cried in a voice like thunder:
"What! before me, rascal! You dare—before me—"
Satan, terrified, ran away, and the saint, seizing a stick, pursued him.
They ran through the halls, turning round the pillars, running up the
staircases, galloping along the cornices, jumping from gargoyle to
gargoyle. The poor devil, who was woefully ill, was running about madly
and trying hard to escape. At last he found himself at the top of the
last terrace, right at the top, from which could be seen the immense bay,
with its distant towns, sands and pastures. He could no longer escape,
and the saint came up behind him and gave him a furious kick, which shot
him through space like a cannonball.
He shot through the air like a javelin and fell heavily before the town
of Mortain. His horns and claws stuck deep into the rock, which keeps
through eternity the traces of this fall of Satan.
He stood up again, limping, crippled until the end of time, and as he
looked at this fatal castle in the distance, standing out against the
setting sun, he understood well that he would always be vanquished in
this unequal struggle, and he went away limping, heading for distant
countries, leaving to his enemy his fields, his hills, his valleys and
And this is how Saint Michael, the patron saint of Normandy, vanquished
Another people would have dreamed of this battle in an entirely different