September 10, 2019

Saint Autbert, Bishop of Avranches, Founder of the Monastery of Mont-St-Michel on the Normandy Coast (+ 720)

St. Aubert of Avranches (Feast Day - September 10)

Saint Aubert lived in Gaul during the reign of Childebert III (695-711) and died about 720. He was born of a noble family from Genetas, and received an extensive education. When the See of Avranches became vacant, Aubert, known for his wisdom and piety, was chosen bishop.

According to the accounts of the foundation of Mont-Saint-Michel, in 708 Aubert had retreated to Mont Tombe to pray. There he had a vision in which the Archangel Michael instructed him to build an oratory on the rocky tidal island at the mouth of the Couesnon. Aubert did not pay attention to this vision at first, doubting it was a true vision. The archangel appeared a second time, but still Aubert hesitated. In view of the condition of this rocky point, scarcely attached to the continent, covered with bushes and brambles, and only inhabited, besides the wild beasts, by some hermits, he judged it impossible, and at first thought of it as a trick of the devil. At last in exasperation Michael appeared to him again, this time poking him in his head and ordered him to complete the task. Upon awaking and feeling the hole in his head, it was confirmed for him that the vision was truly from God. After this the oratory was built, many miracles taking place in the process, and henceforth Mont Tombe came to be called Mont-Saint-Michel. It was dedicated on 16 October 709. Here Bishop Aubert at first established a chapter of twelve canons; then the Benedictines. Aubert's body was first buried in the oratory, then translated to the abbey on June 18, c. 1009.

The skull of the Saint was saved from being destroyed by the revolutionaries in 1792 by a doctor, Louis-Julien Guérin, who took the pretext of his position as a doctor to recover, for study purposes, the relic of the skull. When peace returned, he restored it to the clergy of Versailles. The reliquary of the Saints arm had disappeared. In 1856, his skull was transferred to the Basilica of Saint Gervais and Saint Protais in Avranches, where it is preserved till this day. It is more generally believed nowadays that the skull is in fact a prehistoric relic showing evidence of trepanation. The state of conservation of the skull however suggests that the body was not buried in the ground but in a sarcophagus or coffin.