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Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend

Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend

Richard F. Johnson
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 186
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  • Book Info
    Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend
    Book Description:

    The cult and legends of St Michael the archangerl were widespread in medieval England, and this book - the first full-length study of the subject - offers a comprehensive examination of their genesis and diffusion. Part I identifies and analyses the concerns, conflicts, and roles with which St Michael is associated, from scriptural and apocryphal literature through to the homiletic literature of the medieval period. Part II begins with a discussion of the vernacular recensions of the popular account of the archangel's earthly interventions, and goes on to survey the legendary accounts in Old English, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English of the archangel and his roles as guardian, intercessor, psychopomp, and warrior-angel follows. The Appendices contain the first English translation of the archangel's hagiographic foundation-myth; an annotated bibliographical list and motif index of textual materials relating to the archangel; and an essay on the iconographic representations of the archangel in medieval England. RICHARD F. JOHNSON is Assistant Professor of English at William Rainey Harper College.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-425-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The cult and legends of St. Michael were widespread in the British Isles during the Middle Ages.¹ Veronica Ortenberg has suggested that the archangel “was probably the most popular of the great saints in England after St. Peter,”² while Owen Chadwick has remarked that in Wales St. Michael was second in popularity only to the Virgin Mary.³ There is abundant textual and physical evidence that the cult of the archangel flourished in Ireland and Scotland as well.⁴ Although the evidence of pre-Conquest church dedications is scant,⁵ by the Reformation churches dedicated to the archangel in England alone numbered 611.⁶ Thus,...

  7. Part I. Genesis and Migration of the Legends

    • 1 Literary Origins of the Archangel’s Legendary Roles
      (pp. 9-30)

      St. Michael the archangel appears by name in scripture only five times: three times in the Old Testament (Daniel 10:13, 21 and 12:1) and twice in the New Testament (Revelation 12:7–9 and the Epistle of Jude 9). Despite this relative paucity of references to the archangel in canonical literature, there exists a vast store of legendary material from the Middle Ages concerning the archangel’s roles in the unfolding of human history. In this chapter, I explore the literary origins of St. Michael’s medieval legendary roles by examining the representations of the archangel in biblical and extra-biblical literature. The development...

    • 2 The Archangel’s Legendary History
      (pp. 31-46)

      Although there is no indication that the angel who agitated the water of the pool of Bethesda was the archangel Michael, the story does suggest an early recognition of angelic agency in healing waters. In the early Christian era, angels were widely venerated for their healing powers all across western Asia Minor. The size and influence of the Jewish community in the region suggests that the devotion to angels may have in some part developed out of Jewish angelology, itself a product of foreign influences.¹ In several of his Epistles, St. Paul is particularly concerned with and preaches against the...

  8. Part II. The Archangel in Medieval English Legend

    • 3 Vernacular Versions of the Hagiographic Foundation-Myth
      (pp. 49-70)

      Although never formally canonized by the church, St. Michael enjoyed considerable popularity from the earliest days of his cult in the ancient Near East.² As we have seen, at his cultic centers across Asia Minor, the archangel was invoked in accordance with his stature as a healer long before formal liturgical festivals became the normative means of expressing devotion to him. After the Eastern church began to formalize devotions to St. Michael, possibly in the late fourth or early fifth centuries (i.e., in the aftermath of the first Council of Laodicea), the archangel came to enjoy a number of different...

    • 4 The Archangel as Guardian and Psychopomp
      (pp. 71-86)

      The notion that a guardian spirit watches over each human enjoys a long history in Judeo-Christian tradition.² As the epigraph from the anonymous Old English homily “In Praise of St. Michael” suggests, the concept was firmly established in Anglo-Saxon England. Indeed, for the Anglo-Saxons, St. Michael was the preeminent guardian of the bodies and souls of the faithful. Ælfric, in the Euangelium portion of his homily for St. Michael’s feast day, September 29, reflects on the doctrine of guardian angels.³ Commenting on the second clause of Matthew 18:10,⁴ Ælfric declares, “By these words is manifested that over every believing man...

    • 5 The Archangel and Judgment
      (pp. 87-104)

      As the epigraph from Mirk’s Festial suggests, all of St. Michael’s roles (intercessor, psychopomp, defender of the faithful) are drawn into sharp focus at two moments of human vulnerability, at death and at the Final Judgment. As Chapter One indicated, St. Michael’s efficacy in the present is eclipsed by that of the risen Christ, except at the moment of each human’s death.² At that time, the archangel battles against devils for the custody of the soul of each person and supervises the individual post-mortem judgment of the soul.³ St. Michael’s efficacy, however, will be restored to its full glory at...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 105-108)

    The legends of St. Michael the archangel were widespread in medieval England. Indeed, it was upon the well-established stock of legends of the archangel as warrior-angel and psychopomp that the poet John Milton relied to create his heroic figure of St. Michael in Paradise Lost.

    These legends derive their literary impetus from a matrix of references to the archangel in scriptural and apocryphal literature. Part I of this book, “Genesis and Migration of the Legends,” presents a historical survey of this body of literature. One of the principal angels venerated by the early Church, St. Michael the archangel appears five...

  10. Appendices

    • Appendix A De Apparitione Sancti Michaelis (BHL 5948)
      (pp. 110-115)
    • Apppendix B The Michael Inventory
      (pp. 116-136)
    • Appendix C The Motif Index
      (pp. 137-139)
    • Appendix D Saint Michael in Medieval English Iconography
      (pp. 140-148)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-170)
  12. Index
    (pp. 171-174)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-175)