September 29th is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels in the western church. Originally, Gabriel and the others had their own feast days, as did Michael, but with changes in the Western Church, the feasts were consolidated. Michael is the only angel with the title of saint, and vice versa. Why is interesting, and has more to do with popular understanding than pure scripture. And then there’s the Hunters’ understanding.
Michael is one of three (or two) angels named in the Bible. His name means “Who is like unto G-d?” [Correct answer: no one.] He appears in Danial, Jude, and Revelation, and his appearance in Revelation 12:7-9 is probably what inspires most art. Technically, he’s not a saint like Francis or Thomas Moore or Florian, but that doesn’t stop him from being called “saint.” His duties are to fight against the forces of evil, to escort the recent dead to heaven (if the deceased were good), and defend all Christians. Thus the phrase from the invocation, “Defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.” In Medieval art, he is sometimes shown holding scales, weighing the souls of the dead on judgement day. I’ve heard that the guilty soul sinks, and also that the guilty soul rises. I suspect the artists were not entirely certain, either.
One interesting thing in all depictions of St. Michael is that he is always calm and tranquil, never losing his cool, always somewhat detached from the conflict raging around him. Orthodox, Catholic, medieval or modern, always quiet and meditative.
Most Baroque art, which is what we tend to think of, shows Michael beating up on devils or Satan himself.
In western Europe, especially France, you find St. Michael chapels and churches on high places, like, oh, Mont St. Michel. In eastern Europe, they are associated with former pagan sites, as in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna, elsewhere in Austria, and Poland, and Hungary, and Croatia, and . . .
I’ve been fond of St. Michael since my adopted grandfather (a paratrooper and devout Southern Baptist) gave me a St. Michael medallion. Tracking him all over Central Europe has also been fascinating, and Christmas Eve mass at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna was the highlight of that particular trip.
Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, the three Biblical archangels.