St Michael is one of the seven archangels, or “seven spirits”, who stand before the throne of God (Revelation 1:4). His name means “Who is like God?” and he is traditionally considered to be the military leader of the angels.
In one of his sermons, Pope Benedict XVI unpacked the biblical figure of St Michael in more detail. He said: “We find him in Sacred Scripture above all in the Book of Daniel, in the Letter of the Apostle St Jude Thaddeus and in the Book of Revelation. Two of this Archangel’s roles become obvious in these texts. He defends the cause of God’s oneness against the presumption of the dragon, the “ancient serpent”, as John calls it… Michael’s other role, according to Scripture, is that of protector of the People of God (cf. Daniel 10:21; 12:1).”
St Michael has long been a popular figure in Christian art. He is often portrayed as a soldier, wearing armour and wielding a sword. St Michael is also often pictured in the act of defeating the Devil, who is symbolised by a red dragon. Sometimes, he is also shown holding a pair of scales, to underline his role in the Last Judgement.
These images are all inspired by the book of Revelation, which contains a series of mysterious visions seen by St John. Revelation 12:7-8 describes a scene where “war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated.” There are also visions in the book of the Devil being chained by a powerful angel and of the heavenly courtroom of the Last Judgement (20:1-3, 11-15).
This mural painting of St Michael the Archangel is thought to be by the Gothic Revivalist Nathaniel Westlake, or an artist from his studio. It’s found on the sanctuary ceiling of Holy Ghost, Basingstoke, as part of a scene of all seven archangels. In this image, St Michael is shown as a military man, with a sword and shield. Given his importance as the leader of the angels, he is located in the centre, next to the Madonna and Child in the overall scheme (see the second photo below).
And the whole scheme:
Where to find this work of art
Holy Ghost, Basingstoke
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: St Gabriel the Archangel is also introduced in the Book of Daniel.
- From the New Testament: St Michael’s opposition to the Devil is described in the Letter of St Jude.