Yesterday was the feast of St Michael and all Angels – which in the medieval period marked the end of the harvest. It was when geese and ducks and other fowl were plucked and either salted or eaten. Their symbolic down was prized – its use in pillows promised peaceful sleep….
Floating feathers and down showed sensitivity to eddies in the air-stream. This characteristic was believed to reveal the actual passage of the angels through the air….angels being above all messengers…couriers…bringers of great news…
According to this tradition, each of us has our own especial guardian angel. When I was a little boy one of my night prayers was dedicated to my Guardian Angel….I can still remember it…”Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits you here, ever this night be at my side, to watch and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”
There were according to medieval scholars nine orders of angels organised into three choirs….the first, Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the second choir Dominations, Virtues and Powers (sometimes called Majesties) and the final choir of angels orders nearest to the physical world, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. The angels of the first choir are mostly spiritual beings, nearest to God in form and character. Their unique nearness to the Godhead imbued them with a perfect sense of how to praise Him. Their never-ending hymn begins…Holy, Holy, Holy….it is repeated by Christians in the ordinary of the Mass or Holy Communion – ‘The Sanctus’…the prayer prior to the Canon…It also features as part of the other great hymn of celebration – Te Deum.
In the Old Testament the general term archangel is often used to describe an angel from a higher order: thus Michael the Archangel is in fact a Prince of the Seraphim. Medieval ecclesiology taught that ‘angels’ had played a powerful role in Universal redemption and were in particular servants of the risen Christ – hence, the number dedications of churches and such to St Michael. Michael, Raphael and Gabriel were popular forenames names as well as revered angelic figures.
The day itself was kept as holy day….which were days when there was no work. Michaelmas was a holiday celebrated by feasting, games and dancing and drinking new ale and new cider. Michaelmas hasn’t been widely celebrated since those times and was in England formally replaced in the religious calendar by the Harvest Festival. Catholics and Orthodox Christians still keep the old feast and celebrate it as a great solemnity. Its last echo in civil life is in the legal quarter day that takes its name….Michaelmas Term.
Yesterday we celebrated with a feast and I’ve put up some of the recipes used on my recipes page.
Enjoy……and may all the angels of God guard you and protect you over the next year…..