Feast Day : May 8, which commemorates the dedication of a basilica in honor of him on the Salarian Way about six miles outside of Rome, and September 29,
known as Michaelmas Patronage: Brussels, Belgium; grocers; mariners; paratroopers; police; sickness
Name meaning: “Who is like God” or “who is as God” in Hebrew
Michael is warrior, protector, healer and guardian. He holds numerous offices in heaven: He is chief of the virtues and archangels, a prince of the presence, prince of the seraphim, and the angel of repentance, righteousness, mercy and salvation. Some of his roles overlap with those of the two other great archangels of Christianity—Gabriel and Raphael. Michael is mentioned by name in Daniel, Jude and Revelation. In Daniel, he is the guardian angel of the people of God [Israel]. In 10:13, Michael is named and described as “one of the chief princes,” and in 10:21, “one having the appearance of a man” tells Daniel “there is none who contends by my side except Michael, your prince.” In Daniel 12:1, the prophecy of “the time of the end” states that “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.” (This is a reference to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, led by Moses and guided by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night [Exodus 33ff]. In Exodus 23:20, God promises to send His angel before them. Though Michael is not named here, it is widely interpreted that he is that angel.) In Jude 9, the archangel Michael contends with Satan over the body of Moses (according to Jewish lore, Satan wishes to reveal the tomb of the prophet in order to seduce the Israelites into the sin of idolatry; Michael, obeying God, concealed the tomb). In Revelation 12:7–12, Michael and his legions battle Satan and his forces in heaven, and Satan is thrown down. Numerous other biblical references to “the angel of Yahweh” and “the angel of the Lord” are interpreted as meaning Michael. Besides Exodus, another example is found in Zechariah 3:1–2, which tells of an angel of the Lord who confronts Satan before God and the high priest Joshua. In Catholic devotion, there is no greater angel than Michael; the Catholic Church refers to him as “Prince of the heavenly hosts.” Churches were built and dedicated to him from the fifth century on. So intense was adoration of Michael that many devotional cults sprang up all over Europe, peaking in popularity in the late Middle Ages. Devotion to Michael (as well as to Gabriel and Raphael) is still encouraged by the Catholic Church through devotional cults, prayer and Mass. Michael wages ceaseless war against the forces of Satan. He is the special defender of Christians (and particularly Catholics) and the Church. Satan trembles at the mere mention of his name, and all the angels of heaven bow down before him in obedience. Michael inspires fidelity to God. St. Francis de Sales wrote that veneration of Michael is the greatest remedy against despising the rights of God, insubordination, skepticism and infidelity. At Mass, Michael presides over the worship and adoration to the Most High, and sends to God the prayers of the faithful, symbolized by the smoke from incense. The prayer to St. Michael asking him to defend Christians in battle is a condensed form of the general exorcism against Satan and evil spirits composed by Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878–1903). One of his important duties is as psychopomp to the dead, guiding the souls of the newly departed to the afterlife. In this capacity, he resembles the Greek/Roman god Hermes/Mercury and the Egyptian god Thoth. Michael weighs the souls for righteousness. He is associated with benevolent aspects of the Angel of Death and has the ability to shapeshift when he comes to take a soul away. Michael was the angel designated to appear to Mary to announce her death. In Catholicism, Michael guards the gates of purgatory and has pity on the souls therein. Legends tell of prayers made to Michael for souls in purgatory; he appears and takes them into heaven. Michael shares with Raphael special healing duties, a function naturally associated with him as protector of the general welfare. Catholic tradition holds that Michael caused a medicinal spring to appear at Chairotopa near Colossae; anyone who bathed there and invoked the Blessed Trinity and Michael was said to be cured. Michael also dreamed a healing spring from a rock at Colossae. Pagans attempted to destroy it by directing a stream against it, but Michael split the rock with lightning, giving a new bed to the stream, and sanctifying the waters forever. Michael was considered the great heavenly physician at Constantinople, and is credited with banishing a pestilence in Rome during the days of Pope St. Gregory I (r. 590–604). There have been numerous apparitions of Michael reported over the centuries, usually on or near mountaintops. One of the most famous sites is the Michaelion church near Constantinople, erected in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine the Great. At the command of Mary, Queen of the Angels, Michael came to the aid of Constantine in his battle against Emperor Maxentius. Constantine built the church for Michael in gratitude. After its completion, Michael appeared there to the emperor and said, “I am Michael, the chief of the angelic legions of the Lord of hosts, the protector of the Christian religion, who while you were battling against godless tyrants, placed the weapons in your hands.” Miracles attributed to Michael have been reported at the Michaelion over the centuries. Another famous apparition of Michael appeared to the bishop of Siponto on Mount Gargano in Apulia, near Naples, Italy, during the reign of Pope St. Gelasius (r. 492–496). A shrine erected in the cave of the apparition attracted hordes of pilgrims. In the seventh century, the shrine was at a peak of popularity, due in part to a Lombard victory over the Saracens in 663 that was attributed to the help of Michael. According to lore, the Lombards, who went to the shrine to pay thanks for their victory, found the imprint of Michael’s foot near the south door of the temple. In 495 in Cornwall, England, fishermen saw Michael standing on a ledge of rock atop a small mount off the coast near Mousehole. St. Michael’s Mount, as it became known, was already an important trading market and port, and took on new significance with its association with Michael, and became a hallowed place. In the sixth century it was visited by St. Cadoc, one of the principal saints of Wales. According to legend, the saint needed water for his traveling party, and struck his staff into the rock, whereupon water sprang forth. A Benedictine priory was built atop St. Michael’s Mount in 1135 by Bernard Le Bec. The community was enriched by the earls of Cornwall. But on September 11, 1275, an earthquake destroyed the church. It was rebuilt in the 14th century. Between 1349 and 1362, the religious community was nearly wiped out by the Black Plague. In 1649, the property passed into private hands, the St. Aubyn family. From the Middle Ages, St. Michael’s Mount was a favorite pilgrimage. Pilgrims came to seek answers to prayer, discharge vows, do penance and seek healing. Many were spurred by the incentive that all those who came to St. Michael’s Mount with alms and oblations would receive an indulgence of one-third of their penance. The indulgence was credited to Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073–85), though probably it was a tradition started by the monks and over time believed to be true. A goal of many pilgrims was to prove their faith by sitting on “St. Michael’s chair,” a craggy spot with a precipitous drop to the sea. Monks built a stone lantern chair atop the church tower, to serve not only as a lighthouse but also perhaps as a more suitable substitute for the unsafe outcropping. According to lore, if a married couple visit, the first one to sit on the chair will gain mastery in their married life. Pilgrims also were attracted to the jawbone relic of St. Apollonia, a martyr and patron against toothaches. Many miracles of healing were reported at St. Michael’s Mount and credited to the intercession of Michael. Today the former priory is a private residence, much of it open to public tours. The church is active and is free from episcopal jurisdiction. A stone pillar marks the spot where Michael appeared. When the tide is low, St. Michael’s Mount can be accessed on foot across a sandbar. In France, a similar but grander Benedictine abbey was built on Mont St. Michel, a rock off the Normandy coast. In 708, Michael appeared three times in visions to St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a sanctuary there. The abbey was founded in 966 by Richard I, duke of Normandy. Construction of the church began in 1023 and was finished in 1136. By the 12th century, Mont St. Michel was called the “City of Books” and was a great center of learning. Many of the manuscripts kept by the monks were lost during the French Revolution when the monks were expelled. Between 1155 and 1424, Mont St. Michel had jurisdiction over St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. In Spain, where the cult of Michael peaked in popularity in about the 13th century, one of the best-known apparitions is the 1455 appearance to a shepherd about halfway between Navagamella and Fresnedillas, in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama. The sighting was investigated in 1520, when some of the witnesses were still alive, and also in 1617. According to testimony, Michael appeared late one afternoon in 1455 on a holm-oak tree and a rockrose plant to shepherd Miguel Sanchez. Michael told the shepherd not to be frightened, but to tell others that a shrine should be erected on the site and a brotherhood founded, both in honor of angels. Sanchez protested that no one would believe him, but Michael insisted that he tell his employer. “I will make them believe you so they build a shrine here to the holy angels,” he said. He then made an imprint of his hand on the tree. However, Sanchez did not tell the story. A few days passed, and one morning he awakened crippled. His legs were folded in a bizarre manner, so that the backs of his calves touched his thighs and his heels touched his buttocks. His employer, Pedro Garcia de Ayuso, tried unsuccessfully to cure him with herbs and oils. At last Sanchez told of his vision. Garcia de Ayuso consulted with authorities, and they carried the shepherd to the site of the apparition. There they found the handprint on the tree trunk. It was considered proof, and plans were made immediately for construction of a chapel. A Mass was said there for the shepherd’s health; when it was completed, he was cured and he stood up. Sanchez was named keeper of the shrine. Today Michael is revered by millions who pray to him for intercession. He is particularly considered the champion of justice and righteousness. In Christian art, Michael is usually portrayed in warrior garb, holding a sword and scales and trampling Satan.