LEGEND OF MONT SAINT MICHEL BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
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.
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.
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.
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 devil.
genius has said: "God made man in his image and man has returned
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 passions.
village in France is under the influence of some protecting saint,
modelled according to the characteristics of the inhabitants.
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.
this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and
tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great
saint and the devil.
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
as he still feared the approaches of the wicked one, he surrounded
his domains by quicksands, more treacherous even than the sea.
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.
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
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
Michael drank a bowl of milk and then began: "I have come
here to propose to you a good bargain."
devil, candid and trustful, answered: "That will suit me."
it is. Give me all your lands."
growing alarmed, wished to speak "But--"
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?"
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.
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."
a bargain!" said the saint. And he went away.
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.
wished to break the contract, calling Saint Michael a swindler.
the saint, who had developed quite a taste for agriculture, went
back to see the devil and said:
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."
well," answered Satan.
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 sunlight.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
drank new, sweet, sparkling cider and heady red wine, and after
each course they whetted their appetites with some old apple brandy.
devil drank and ate to his heart's content; in fact he took so
much that he was very uncomfortable, and began to retch.
Saint Michael arose in anger and cried in a voice like thunder:
"What! before me, rascal! You dare--before me--"
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.
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.
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 his marshes.
this is how Saint Michael, the patron saint of Normandy, vanquished
people would have dreamed of this battle in an entirely different
de Maupassant - 1882
text in French