by James Conley
Since ancient times, an island half a mile off the Northwest coast of France has been the site of strategic fortifications protecting from earthly attacks. Since the 8th century, it has served as a physical manifestation of religious order: at its highest sits God, communed with through the abbey; next are the great halls where society manages itself; then shops for trade and houses for living; and around the island are walls to defend from the relentless sea.
Mont-Saint-Michel continues to endure as it was built. With just 50 full-time residents, the island hosts more than 3 million visitors a year who dine in its restaurants and shop in its stores. Benedictine monks have been replaced by the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, but prayers continue four times a day.