Most people probably know of the angel Gabriel because of his role in the Nativity. He was the one who told the Virgin Mary that she was to give birth to Christ (Luke 1:26-38). The New Testament says that he also informed St Zechariah about the birth of St John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-20).
However, we first meet St Gabriel in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel. The book describes how St Gabriel visited the prophet Daniel while he was in exile in Babylon. The angel was sent to deliver a series of messages and to help the prophet to understand various visions.
The angel Gabriel (which means ‘God is my strength’) appeared several times to Daniel. He spoke to him about upcoming political developments in the Middle East that would affect the Jewish people. He also reassured Daniel that his prayers for the people to be forgiven had been heard.
Most importantly, St Gabriel also spoke to him about the future coming of the “Anointed One”, otherwise known as the Messiah, or Christ. St Gabriel warned Daniel that “the Anointed One will be cut off”, shortly before the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by “the troops of the prince who is to come.” (Daniel 9:26)
St Gabriel would later close the loop on this prophecy when he visited the Virgin Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Messiah. And true to St Gabriel’s prediction, Christ was indeed put to death not long before Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed. The Roman army attacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, “as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel.” (Matthew 24:1-3; 15-16)
St Gabriel’s traditional symbol is the lily, which represents purity. In scenes of the Annunciation, he is often seen with this flower. At other times, he is often pictured alongside other Archangels, such as St Raphael and St Michael. Since Daniel described his arrival “in swift flight” (9:21), he is usually represented with wings.
This mural painting of St Gabriel is one of a set of three, in that he appears alongside St Raphael and St Michael. It’s by the Gothic Revivalist Nathaniel Westlake and belongs in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Portsmouth.
Dating to 1901, the mural appears to be marouflage (painted onto canvas then glued to the wall), which was one of Westlake’s favourite techniques. St Gabriel is pictured here cloaked and winged, holding his customary lily. His golden halo contains the Latin word ‘sanctus’ (holy). The muted mix of reds, browns and golds are almost Autumnal in tone.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Portsmouth
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The book of Daniel also introduces another of the archangels, St Michael.
- From the New Testament: St Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary in Nazareth to inform her that she was pregnant with the Christ Child.