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Avranches Travel Guide

Avranches is a town in the French province of Normandy, located at the southern end of the Cotentin Peninsula. It is actually less a town and more a sub-prefecture with a population of about 14,000. Avranches is well known for its proximity to the famous abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel.[1] It is situated on high ground overlooking the coastal marshes along the bay between the Brittany and Cotentin peninsulas. Today, Avranches is a gateway town to the famous tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel.[2]

Avranches is best known for having one of the best views of Mont-Saint-Michel. The Granville road stretch between the communes of Saint-Jean-le-Thomas and Carolles, for instance, has been referred to as “the most attractive kilometer in France” because of its view over the bay and the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.[3]

But besides the great view of this landmark, Avranches also has a museum and library called the Avranches Library that has some 256 illuminated manuscripts of Mont-Saint-Michel, as well as incunabulae from the island’s monastery. Incunabulae are sheets and books printed prior to 1501. The collection includes the Cartulary and Robert of Torigni’s Chronicles, a “priceless heritage”.[4] The museum’s collection is one of the largest of medieval illuminated manuscripts in France outside of national libraries and universities.[5]

The remains of the former cathedral where King Henry II paid penance to the pope for his murder of Thomas Becket is also worth visiting. All that remains of this site is an open grassed area, La Plat-Forme, with a few remnants of the destroyed building.[6]

After the former cathedral was destroyed, the Notre Dame des Champs was built to restore religious life to the town. The Notre Dame des Champs is a 19th century Gothic Revival style church. There are also two smaller basilica churches in Avranches, St. Gervais and St. Protais, and both store some interesting treasures. The St. Gervais, for instance, houses the skull of St. Aubert, who was the 8th century bishop who founded Mont-Saint-Michel.[7]

Avranches was first settled by the Abricantes during the Roman Empire. In 933, the town was ceded to the Normans. In the late 12th century, after the King of England, Henry II, arranged to have Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered, the king had to pay penance at the Cathedral in Avranches. In WWII, Avranches was the setting of the breakthrough in the war, which was achieved under the famous leadership of General George S. Patton.[8]

“Avranches” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avranches>

Gaudez, René, Hervé Champollion, and Angela Moyon. Tour of Normandy. Rennes: Éditions Ouest-France, 1996. ISBN: 2737317185.

[1] Gaudez, 15
[2] Avranches
[3] Gaudez, 15
[4] Id.
[5] Avranches
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.

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