Today, interestingly enough, is Michaelmas, the feast day of the archangel Michael.
He’s my favourite. Well, one of them. Yes, I’m allowed to have favourite angels.
Essentially being the alpha-angel, legend and scripture between them record a long list of his attributes.
For instance, we all know that Michael is the one who defeated Lucifer – but did you know that when he weeps, his tears turn to gemstones? (Or, slightly more alarmingly, cherubim?)
He’s connected to knowledge, to light, patience and repentance; righteousness, mercy and sanctification. He assisted in the burial of Moses and depending on who you’re reading, technically it’s Michael who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven… and not St Peter.
That last one does rather make sense: if you’re going to have a bouncer on the door, you want someone who’s not afraid of a fight. And preferably carries a sword.
I’ve collected images and descriptions of Michael for a while now – but my favourite comes from Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion & Ethics, where he’s described in one early tradition as having wings the colour of “green emerald”, as well as being covered “with saffron hairs, each of them containing a million faces and mouths and as many tongues”. You can see why most people opt for the more familiar armour / sword portrayal, can’t you?
Once, he was also associated (benevolently) with death: he was the one who would lead the souls of the faithful into Heaven – and perhaps this is why he is sometimes also referred to as the angel who foretells Mary’s death.
Chief of the order of the virtues, chief of the archangels, prince of the presence and ruler of the 4th Heaven: with a list of titles like that, he must have one hell of a business card.