Medieval France meets 21st Century Seattle

It’s not very often that a gift to the King of France turns up on the shores of Lake Union. But it has at MOHAI.

The gift, a fantastic miniature replica of the real-life Mont-Saint-Michel, a medieval cathedral, abbey and village, built on an island in France between Normandy and Brittany, was created by monks in the 17th century for King Louis the XIV.

The replica of Mont-Saint-Michel

Not just an exquisite curio for the King, the replica was part of a 3-D, high tech (at the time) map system of the region to aid in strategic warfare. It’s now considered a work of art in itself, and its exhibition at MOHAI brings you a piece of France with a Seattle overlay, a mixed reality tour (developed by Microsoft) spins you through the history of the place.

A rich history it is. Borders rise and fall like the sea around Mont-Saint-Michel. Built over time beginning in the 700s, first by the English and then by the French, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the great cathedrals of France and was a sacred place of pilgrimage for centuries. Then that too was washed over. It became forgotten for a while, even serving as a prison during the French Revolution. Rediscovered, it’s again a religious site as well as tourist attraction, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Mont-Saint-Michel exhibit at MOHAI is open to all ages, but the mixed reality tour (included as part of the price of admission) has limited availability. There are just four slots for the 10-minute excursion that feels a bit like a high-tech amusement ride (a sample of the future of museum going?), a flight of fancy, with docents who ready you for the experience and then check you back in afterwards. (And like an amusement park ride where you have to be “this tall” to go on it, for this ride, you have to be 15 or older.)

Make a pilgrimage to MOHAI to check out the Mont-Saint-Michel replica before it retreats. You need to sign up for the mixed reality tour at the museum. On a Thursday afternoon, we had to wait an hour, but there are plenty of other things to see at MOHAI including an enlightening “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” exhibit. And your museum pass is good for all day; you could even go outside and check out the historic ships dock or Center for Wooden Boats while you wait.

MOHAI recently extended its evening hours for the holiday, Sunday, Jan 19, and Monday, Jan 20, to 8 p.m., so you have a little more time to book your carbon-free voyage to France and to the past and the future.

Update: MOHAI encourages people to call the museum to ensure space on the mixed reality tour: 206-324-1126.