When the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches early in 709 Aubert was surprised but not as delighted as one would expect.
Bishop Aubert lived peacefully in a community of hard working Christians, carefully turning a blind eye to the activities of a less Christian variety taking place on on a nearby rocky island, placed prominently at the mouth of the Couesnon river.
The Bishop knew the moment the Archangel appeared some sort of change would be expected and Aubert was not good at change.
He had a lot of good qualities including a generous heart and an inspiring way with the gospels when the mood took him, but he liked a regular life and Archangels were historically not conducive to peace and quiet.
A surfeit of cheese
Aubert told no-one about the visitation and tried to convince himself it was a dream caused by a surfeit of cheese – the milk of Avranches region is still known to be particularly good for cheese making – or perhaps oysters, a local speciality he found hard to resist.
Then the Archangel appeared again.
Again the Archangel went into some detail about what Bishop Aubert should be doing. Aubert was respectful to the vision but still strangely reticent about carrying out the suggested task.
To Archangel Michael it was a perfectly reasonable request. Clear the local island of its ‘pagan’ residents, build an Oratory and generally show the locals who was boss.
Bishop Aubert could see complications. The pagans had been on the island for as long as memories existed and would doubtless resist strongly any attempt to relocate them. Aubert began to sleep badly.
The convincing argument
He therefore woke quickly when an irate Archangel Michael appeared for a third time. Before Aubert could start to explain any sort of local politics the angry Archangel pointed a determined finger in his direction. Aubert opened his mouth but could only say ‘Oww!’.
Archangel Michael, realising he was not getting his point across, jabbed an angelic finger right into Bishop Auberts head. He stared hard at the Bishop, he narrowed his eyes. He removed his finger and disappeared. The room was again in darkness and Aubert knew what he had to do.
He built an Oratory on the island.
The pagans were paid off or converted and on 16 October 709 the Oratory was dedicated to St Michael.
Aubert finally caught up on his sleep.
Aubert is reputed to have been buried on the island and he is now regarded as a saint himself in the Roman Catholic Church, with a feast day on 10 September.
If you visit Saint-Gervais Basilica in Avranches you can see the relic of Saint Aubert’s skull, complete with hole where the Archangel’s finger pierced it.
Sceptics like to say that the skull is in fact a prehistoric relic showing evidence of trepanation.
They should look across the Couesnon river to one of the most remarkable small islands in the world, a medieval marvel perched perilously on an inhospitable rocky outcrop and ask themselves, how did that get there?
- See the relic of Saint Aubert’s skull at Saint-Gervais Basilica
- Meet Saint Aubert, who has his own day! 10 September.
- Read about the Mont St Michel Causeway Controversy in the Guardian (who took this from Le Monde).
- More here on the impact of the New Causeway from the Daily Telegraph.
Discover more about Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy