The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

St Michael The Archangel

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 1

May 8

St. Michael, The Archangel

It is not clear what particular apparition of St. Michael is celebrated in the Roman Catholic church on this day [May 8]; their books mention several of his apparitions. They rank him as field-marshal and commander-in-chief of the armies of heaven, as prince of the angels opposed to Lucifer, and, especially, as principal guardian of human souls against the infernal powers.1 In heraldry, as head of the order of archangels, his ensign is a banner hanging on a cross, and he is armed as Victory, with a dart in one hand, arid a cross on his forehead, or the top of the head; archangels are distinguished from angels by that sign. Usually, however, he is painted in coat-armour, in a glory, with a dart, throwing Lucifer headlong into a flame of fire issuing out of a base proper; this is also termed the battle between Michael and the devil, with his casting out of heaven into the lake of fire arid brimstone. “There remained,” says a distinguishing herald, “still in heaven, after the fall of Lucifer, the bright star, and his company, more angels than there ever was, is, and shall be men born in the earth, which God ranked into nine orders or chorus, called the nine quoires [choirs] of holy angels.”2

St. Michael is further represented in catholic books as engaged with weighing souls in a pair of scales. A very curious spiritualizing romance, originally in French, printed in English by Caxton, in the reign of Edward V., exemplifies the office of St. Michael in this capacity; the work is entitled — “The Pilgremage of the Sowle.” The author expresses himself under “the similitude of a dream,” which, he says, befell him on a St. Laurence’ night sleeping in his bed. He thought himself travelling towards the city of Jerusalem, when death struck his body and soul asunder; whereupon Satan in a foul and horrible form came towards the soul, which being in great terror, its warden, or guardian angel, desired Satan to flee away and not meddle with it. Satan refuses, alleging that God had permitted that no soul which had done wrong should, on its passage, escape from being “snarlyd in his trappe;” and he said, that the guardian angel well knew that he, the said guardian, could never withdraw the soul from evil, or induce it to follow his good counsel; and that even if he had, the soul would not have thanked him for it; Satan, therefore, knew not why the angel should interfere,and begged he would let him alone to do with the soul what he had a right to do, and could not be prevented from doing. The parley continued, until they agreed to carry the soul before Michael, the provost of heaven, and abide his award on Satan’s claim.

The soul was then lifted between thorn both into the transparent air, wherein the spirits of the newly dead were passing thickly on every side, to and fro, as motes flitting in the sun-beam. They tarried not until they arrived at a marvellous place of bright fire, shining with a brilliant light, surrounded by a great multitude of souls attending there for a like purpose. The guardian angel entered, leaving Satan without, and also the soul, who could hear the voice of Ins warden speaking in his behalf, and acquainting Michael that he had brought from earth a pilgrim, who was without, and with him Satan his accuser, abiding judgment.

Then Satan began to cry out and said, “Of right he is mine, and that I shall prove; wherefore deliver him to me by judgment, for I abide naught else.” This caused proclamation to be made by sound of trumpet in these words:— “All ye that are without, awaiting your judgment, present yourselves before the provost to receive your doom; but first ye that have longest waited, and especially those that have no great matter and are not much troubled; for the plain and light causes shall first be determined, and then other matters that need greater tarrying.”

This proclamation greatly disturbed the souls without. Satan and his evil spirits were most especially angry, and holding a consultation, he spoke as follows: “It appears we are of little consequence, and hence our wicked neighbours do us injustice. These wardens hinder us from our purposes, and we are without favour. There is no caitiff pilgrim but hath had a warden assigned him from his birth, to attend him and defend him at all times from our hands, and especially from the time that he washed in the ‘salt lye,’ ordained by grace de Dieu, who hath ever been our enemy; and then they are taken, as soon as these wardens come, before the provost, and have audience at their own pleasure; while we are kept here without, as mere ribalds. Let us cry out a rowe [haro], and out upon them all! they have done us wrong; and we will speak so loud that in spite of them they shall hear us.” Then Satan and his spirits cried out all at once, “Michael I provost, lieutenant, and commissary of the high judge! do us right, without exception or favour of any party. You know very well that in every upright court the prosecutor is admitted to make his accusation and propose his petition; but you first admit the defendant to make his excusation. This manner of judging is suspicious; for were these pilgrims innocent yet, if reason were to be heard, and right were to prevail, the accusers would have the first hearing to say what they would, and then the defendants after them, to excuse themselves if they could: we, then, being the prosecutors, hear us first, and then tire defendants.”

After Satan’s complaint, the soul heard within the curtain, ”a longe parliament;“ and, at the last, there was another proclamation ordered by sound of trumpet, as follows:— “All ye that are accustomed to come to our judgments, to hear and to see, as assessors, that right be performed, come forth immediately and take your seats; ye well knowing your own assigned places. Ye also that are without, waiting the sitting of the court, present yourselves forthwith to the judgment thereof, in order as ye shall be called; so that no one hinder another, or interrupt another’s discourse. Ye pilgrims, approach the entrance of this curtain, awaiting without and your wardens, because they are our equals, belonging to our company, are to appear, as of right they ought, within our presence.”

After this proclamation was observed, the guardian angel said,— ”Provost Michael! I here present to you this pilgrim, committed to my care in the world below: he has kept his faith to the last and ought to be received into the heavenly Jerusalem, whereto his body hath long been travelling.” — Satan answered — ”Michael! attend to my word and I shall tell you another tale.” The soul being befriended throughout by St. Michael, finally escapes the dreadful doom of eternal punishment.

On St. Michael’s contention with the devil about the body of Moses, more may be seen in the volume on “Ancient Mysteries,” from which the present notice is extracted, or in “Bishop Marsh’s translation of Michaeli’s Introduction to the New Testament.”

The managers of an institution for the encouragement of British talent, less versed in biblical criticism than in art, lately offered a prize to the painter who should best represent this strange subject.


September 29.

The Dedication of St. Michael’s Church, or The Festival of St. Michael and all the holy Angels.

St. Michael

This saint is in our almanacs and in he calendar of the church of England. The day is a great festival in the Romish church. The rev. Edward Barnard, of Brantinghamthorpe, in “The Protestant Beadsman,” an elegantly written “series of biographical notices and hymns, commemorating the saints and martyrs whose holidays are kept by the church of England,” says, “The rank of archangel is given in scripture to none but Michael, who is represented as the guardian and protector both of the Jewish church, and the glorious church of Christ, in which the former merged. On this account he is celebrated by name, while the rest of the holy angels are praised collectively. St. Michael is mentioned in scripture five times, and always in a military view ; thrice by Daniel, as fighting for the Jewish church against Persia; once by St. John, as fighting at the head of his angelic troops against the dragon and his host; and once by St. Jude, as fighting personally with the devil, about the body of Moses; for the very ashes of God’s servants have angelic protection. It has been thought by many, that there is no other archangel but Michael. An author of great name, who has not given his reasons or authority, inclines to this opinion; and adds, that he succeeded Lucifer in this high dignity. Others imagine, and not without strong probability, that Michael is the Son of God himself. The interpretation of his name, and the expression (used by St. John) of 'his angels,’ strengthen this supposition; for to whom can the angels belong but to God, or Christ? The title, by which Gabriel spoke of him, when he required his assistance, (‘Michael your prince’) is likewise brought forward, by bishop Rorsley in confirmation of this opinion. Besides, the Jews always claimed to be under the immediate spiritual protection and personal government of God, who calls them his peculiar people. How then can Michael preside over them? This festival will not loose any dignity by the adoption of such an interpretation, but will demand a more conscientious observance from those, who celebrate in it, not only the host of friendly angels, but, likewise (under the title of Michael) Jesus Christ the common Lord both of angels and men.” A well-informed expositor of the “Common Prayer-book,” Wheatley, says that the feast of St. Michael and all angels is observed, that the people may know what benefits are derived from the ministry of angels.


The accompanying engraving is from an ancient print emanating from the “contemplations” of catholic churchmen, among whom there is diversity of opinion concerning the number of archangels. Their inquiries have been directed to the subject, because it is an article of the catholic faith that angels, as well as saints, intercede for men, and that their intercession may be moved by prayers to them. In conformity with this persuasion patron - saints and angels are sometimes drawn for, by putting certain favourite names together, and selecting one, to whom, as the patron-saint or angel, the invocations of the individual are from that time especially addressed.

In the great army of angels the archangels are deemed commanders. The angels themselves are said to be divided into as many legions as there are archangels; whether these are seven or nine does not appear to be determined; but Michael, as in the present engraving, is always represented as the head or chief archangel, he is here accompanied by six only.

Dr. Laurence, regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford, and now archbishop of Cashel, recently printed at the Clarendon press, the long lost “Book of Enoch.” This celebrated apocryphal writing of ancient times calls “Michael one of the holy angels, who, presiding over human virtue, commands the nations.” It says, that Raphael “presides over the spirits of men ;“ that Uriel “presides over clamour and terror;“ and Gabriel, “over paradise and over the cherubims.”

Our old heraldic friend, Randle Holme, says Michael is the head of the “order of archangels;” his design is a banner hanging on a cross, and he is armed, as representing victory with a dart in one hand, and a cross on his forehead. He styles Raphael as leader of the “order of powers,” with a thunderbolt and a flaming sword to withstand the power of evil angels. Uriel, he says, commands the “order of seraphims;” his ensign is a darning heart and a cross-staff. Gabriel he nakes [?] governor of the “order of angels,” and his ensign a book and a staff. Of the other three archangels in the print, it would be difficult to collect an account immediately.


Our forefathers were told by the predecessor of Alban Butler, that Michael bore the banner of the celestial host, chased the angel Lucifer and his followers from heaven, and enclosed them in dark air unto the day of judgment, not in the upper region, because there it is clear and delightful, nor upon the earth, because there they could not torment mankind, but between heaven and earth, that when they look up they may see the joy they have lost, and when they look downward, may see men mount to heaven from whence they fell. The relation says, they flee about us as flies; they are innumerable, and like flies they fill the air without number; and philosophers and doctors are of opinion, that the air is as full of devils and wicked spirits “as the sonne bemes ben full of small motes which is small dust or poudre.”3


Bishop Hall, in his “Triumphs of Rome,” mentions a red velvet buckler to have been preserved in a castle in Normandy which Michael wore in his combat with the dragon.

Bishop Patrick who wrote subsequently, in 1674, says “I hope that the precious piece of St. Michael’s red cloth is forthcoming — his dagger and his shield were to he seen at the beginning of this age, though one of their historians says, that five years before he came thither, in l607 the bishop of Avranches had forbidden his shield to he any more showed: but who knows but some of the succeeding bishops may have been better natured, and not have denied this gratification to the desires of their gaping devotees.”


Bishop Patrick cites a Roman catholic litany, wherein after addresses to God, the Trinity, and the virgin Mary, there are invocations to St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, together with all the orders of angels, to “pray for us.” He also instances that in the old Roman missal, and in the Sarum missal,there is a proper mass to Raphael the archangel, as the protector of pilgrims and travellers, and a skilful worker with medicine. Likewise an office for the continual intercession of St. Gabriel, and all the heavenly militia. In these catholic services St. Michael is invoked as a “most glorious and warlike prince,” “chief officer of paradise,” “captain of God’s hosts,” “the receiver of souls,” “the vanquisher of evil spirits,” and “the admirable general.” After mentioning several miracles attributed by the Romanists to St. Michael, the bishop says, “You see from this legend, that when people are mad with superstition, any story of a cock and a bull will serve their turn to found a festival upon, and to give occasion for the further veneration of a saint or an angel, though the circumstances are never so improbable.” He relates as an instance, that in a Romish church-book, Michael is said to have appeared to a bishop, whom he required to go to a hill-top, where if he found a bull tied, he was to found a church, and dedicate it to God and St. Michael. The bishop found the bull, and proceeded to found the church, but a rock on each side hindered the work, wherefore St. Michael appeared to a man, and bade him go and put away the rock, and dread nothing; so the man went, and “sette to his shoulders,” and bade the rock go away in the name of God and St. Michael and so the rocks departed to the distance necessary to the work. “This removing the rock” says bishop Patrick, ‘is a pretty stretcher!”



It is noticed by Mr. Brand in his “Popular Antiquities,” which cites most of the circumstances presently referred to, that — ”it has long been and still continues the custom at this time of the year, or thereabouts, to elect the governors of towns and cities, the civil guardians of the peace of men, perhaps, as Bourne supposes, because the feast of angels naturally enough brings to our minds the old opinion of tutelar spirits, who have, or are thought to have, the particular charge of certain bodies of men, or districts of country, as also that every man has his guardian angel, who attends him from the cradle to the grave, from the moment of his coming in, to his going out of life.”

Mr. Nichols notices in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” that on Monday, October 1st, 1804,— ”The lord mayor and alderman proceeded from Guildhall, and the two sheriffs with their respective companies from Stationers’-hall, and having embarked on the Thames, his lordship in the city barge, and the sheriffs in the stationers’ barge, went in aquatic state to Palace-yard. They proceeded to the court of Exchequer: where, after this usual salutations to the bench (the cursitor baron, Francis Maseres, Esq. presiding) the recorder presented the two sheriffs; the several writs were then read, and the sheriffs and the senior under-sheriff took the usual oath. The ceremony, on this occasion, in the court of Exchequer, which vulgar error supposed to be an unmeaning farce, is solemn and impressive; nor have the new sheriffs the least connection either with chopping of sticks, or counting of hobnails. The tenants of a manor in Shropshire are directed to come forth to do their suit and service; on which the senior alderman below the chair steps forward, and chops a single stick, in token of its having been customary for the tenants of that manor to supply their lord with fuel. The owners of a forge in the parish of St. Clement (which formerly belonged to the city, and stood in the high road from the Temple to Westminster, but now no longer exists,) are their called forth to do their suit and service; when an officer of the court, in the presence of the senior alderman, produces six horse-shoes and sixty-one hobnails, which he counts over in form before the cursitor baron; who, on this particular occasion, is the immediate representative of the sovereign.

The whole of the numerous company then again embarked in their barges, and returned to Blackfriars-bridge, where the state carriages were in waiting. Thence they proceeded to Stationers’-hall, where a most elegant entertainment was given by Mr. Sheriff Domville.”

Notes from Hone:

1. Butler. Return

2. Holme. Return

3. Golden Legend. Return

Editor's Note: The feast day of St. Michael is celebrated on September 29 in the Western traditions and on November 8 in the Eastern Orthodox traditions. I understand that in the Roman Catholic Church, it is the Feast of SS. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels, and that in the Anglican Church, its proper name is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

See Brand's notes on Michaelmas.

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