Commemorating Archangel Michael

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Whereas the Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate Archangel Michael on November 8, in the West his feast is celebrated on 29 September.

St. Michael has a prominent position among the angels in heaven. The prefix “arch” is derived from the Greek ἀρχή (archē) and means as much as beginning or leadership, emphasizing St. Michael special position. Due to his fighting power as manifested in the battle against Lucifer, after the latter aspired to rival God in heaven, Archangel Michael has become the patron of soldiers and warriors. He defeated Lucifer, who appeared to him in the form of a dragon. Before Lucifer fell down from heaven, the archangel asked him: “Who is like God?” From the initials of these words in Hebrew – “Mi kamocha elohim” – the name of the archangel is derived: “Mi-ka-el”. He has also been the patron saint of Germany since the 955 victory of Otto the Great over the Hungarians in the Battle of Lechfeld. Besides, St. Michael has patronage over numerous cities such as Brussels, Kiev, Arkhangelsk, and even the Archdiocese of Seattle. Since the 4th century AD, countless churches have been dedicated to the archangel, such as the Michaelion near Constantinople, or the Cathedral of St. Michael and Gudule in Brussels. His main shrine is the Santuario San Michele Arcangelo in Gargano (Italy). And the arguably most famous one is the Mont St. Michel in the Wadden Sea of Normandy.

In the RISM database Michael’s main feast is listed under the Latin name “Michaelis Archangeli,” but the entries “Michaelis Archangeli, Apparitio” and “Michaelis Archangeli, Dedicatio” are also closely related to him. In the Catholic Church Michael’s apparition (Apparitio) is celebrated on May 8. It was on this day - probably in the year 492 - that the archangel allegedly appeared on Mount Gargano and announced to the local people: “This cave is sacred to me. And because I have decided to protect this place on earth and its inhabitants, […] where the rock is thrown open, the sins of the people will be forgiven.” As hinted above, the grotto church of San Michele built on the spot is St. Michael‘s oldest sanctuary.

The entry “Michaelis Archangeli, Dedicatio” refers to the day (September 29) on which the church of St. Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano was consecrated. Since 1969, the reorganization of the liturgical year, the Catholic Church has not only commemorated St. Michael on this day, but also the archangels Gabriel and Rafael. In the RISM database the above three “Michaelis Archangeli” entries are linked with catalog records of historical music sources, indicating that these were produced on the occasion of these feasts. In the RISM Catalog these sources can be found by using the search index Liturgical Feasts, while in RISM Online one can enter the three feasts mentioned above in the search box for sources.

Image: Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon, Andrès Marzal de Sas (school of) (Spain, Valencia, active circa 1394-1410), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Collections (Public Domain)

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