I first visited Mont St Michel when I did my hitch hiking pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem. There was a small Benedictine community living there at the time and I was given their name by a monk friend in England. They gave me a warm welcome, and encouraged me on my journey.

A few years later I found myself working as an Anglican priest on the Isle of Wight, so I would make my annual retreat at Mont St Michel. I’d take the night ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo and walk or hitch hike the fifteen or so miles to the Abbey.

It really is one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Built on an island of bedrock in the midst of quicksand it rises like a gothic dream above the earth–it seems to float on the sea when the tide comes in, and it seems like a city more of the clouds than the earth. The spiritual presence of the place is very overwhelming when you stop to listen. The church sits above the monastic buildings which are stacked three stories high.

Over the whole lot is this beautiful cloister–closed in on four sides and bracketed with light and thin gothic arches. The middle is open to heaven. I’ve seen lots of monastic cloisters, and this one is just about perfect: It stands as a deep symbol of the spiritual life: enclosed with the necessary discipline on all sides, it is built of stone and founded on a rock. But all the stone and cloister and enclosure is for one purpose: for the cultivation and protection of the garden within, and that garden is a place is peaceful solitude, enclosed from earth and silent, but open to heaven.