Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 4, 2006
Archangel left his mark on Bishop Aubert
And pilgrims can see the indentation on this precious relic
St Aubert – September 10
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
This painting shows Archangel Michael admonishing Bishop Aubert about delays in the chapel construction at Mont-Saint-Michel
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Those seeking the world of Aubert, eighth century bishop, will find it on the shores of Northern France's Mont-Saint-Michel bay.
Here, in an attractive, pleasant hilltop town in Normandy's Manche Department, his name is perpetuated in the combined Paroisse Saint-Aubert d'Avranches and his life is remembered in its principal church, Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais.
The story is told, at the nearby world famous pilgrimage site of Mont-Saint-Michel, of how Bishop Aubert was directed to dedicate the massive hill to the Archangel Michael. It seems that the bishop spent time on the island of remote, rocky Rocher de la Tombe, a place frequented by hermits, noted for its serenity and already a respected, sacred place.
Here, in this inhospitable site, Aubert experienced three dreamlike visits from the Archangel Michael who suggested that a chapel, dedicated to this leader of the celestial armies, should be built on Mont Tombe.
When the good cleric complained that it was difficult getting the wherewithal and labour for such a project, the angel berated him, insisted that the venture begin and, for emphasis, jabbed Aubert in the head with an imperious forefinger.
This activated the good bishop and soon on Oct. 16, 708 a chapel was dedicated to St. Michael. In the interim, Aubert had also caused a fresh water spring to appear miraculously on the arid rock.
Fresh water spring
The spring is still there as are the foundations of his first oratory on the renamed famous Mont-Saint-Michel. The bishop arranged for clergy to staff the new church and was later buried there.
Today, Aubert's legacy in Avranches takes the form of the great church centered in the town on its plateau overlooking La S‚e River.
Although the 19th century Basilique-Saint-Gervais-Saint Protais is named for two early Christian martyrs, its accepted patron is Aubert whose name is attached to a merged parish of several area churches, now a part of the Coutances Diocese.
Hanging above the treasury door in the church is a dramatic painting of Michael remonstrating with a surprised, Scripture-reading Aubert about the pace of construction of the angel's sanctuary on Mont Tombe. Armed and armoured, both the angel's index fingers point compellingly by way of accenting his request.
Elsewhere in the church, the theme of St. Michael is continued with several old statues of the archangel in his traditional pose, spearing a dragon (the devil) at his feet.
Naturally enough, the real treasures of the basilica are sequestered in the tresor, a room off the nave that unfortunately is open to the public only in the mid-summer tourist season. Here is contained the principal relic and the main object of attention and veneration for pilgrims seeking the story of Saint-Aubert.
It is the holy bishop's skull, carefully preserved for all these years and unique in bearing the hole imprinted in the bone by the finger of an increasingly impatient archangel.
Near Saint-Gervais Church, a popular historic site of much later vintage is at La Plate-Forme, the valley edge location of the early Cathedral of Saint-Andr‚. Here, in Square T. Becket, a plaque identifies the ancient paving stones that fronted the long-gone church and were the setting for an act of public penance by English King Henry II in atonement for his slaying of the popular, sainted Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
From here too, the unmistakeable pyramidal profile of Mont-Saint-Michel can be seen, 19 km to the southwest, seeming to float mirage-like in the waters of its great bay, an eternal reminder of the originator of the famous shrine, sainted Avranche Bishop Aubert.