This elaborate anonymous Mexican Retablo depicts the seven archangles in full figure.
One day we received a call at the offices of El antiQuario with a question about an obscure saint's name. While we were doing what we could to help provide an answer, the idea to create a new column was bom: a forum for our readers who have questions or knowledge of saints, their legendary lives, names, attributes and the immortal art and images they have left in the eartWy world.
Devout believer or not, the hundreds of saints which the Roman Catholic Church has canonized over the centuries have left a deep impression on the people, customs and treasured arts of Mexico. But to understand the saints, one must first look one rung further up the holy hierarchy to the angels of Catholic tradition.
To become a saint, one must first make the selfless sacrifices necessary to overcome evil, and evil, it is believed, first carne from the falling of an angel from the kingdom of heaven. As described in the Bible's book of Apocalypse and so eloquently by John Milton in 'Paradise Lost,' the angel Lucifer, as the highest of the seraphim, challenged the authority of God and was expelled from heaven. He became the quintessential manifestation of evil recognized by the Church: Satan, the Angel of Darkness.
Angels have played a key role in the spiritual development of Mexican society, much in the same way as saints. But what is an angel anyway?
Though wont to take on human forms in paintings and statues on walls in churches, homes and museums, according to Catholic theology, angels are intelligent beings of pure light completely lacking in form or sexo The word angel comes from the Greek aggelos meaning messenger, and their messages are usually tidings of peace and comfort. Angels too are protectors, and every human being is said to have a guardian angel to keep them from evil and give counsel during difficulties. As Saint Augustine said, "every visible thing in this world has been placed under the care of an angel."
In the year 500, theologian Dionisio Aeropagita scribed "Celestial Hierarchy," in which he described nine choirs of angels. He divided the angels into three groups, listing them in order of importance or rank:
One group comprises the seraphim, cherubim and ophanim, the angels who are dedicated to the adoration of God. The second group, is made
up of the choirs of domination, virtue and power, whose mission it is to know God through contemplation of the universe. The
third group consists of the principality,
the archangels and the guardian or
regular angels. These last choirs are
dedicated to the protection of the earth
and the people who inhabit it. The most wel!-known from the last category are
the seven archangels, but who are they?
The seven archangels
Seven, the holy number of etemity, is the number of archangels known to the Church.
The most important and wel!-known of al! is Michael. Often referred to as Saint Michael, his effigies can be told from his batde garbo In one hand he holds a lance or sword and in the other a scale,
representing the law of God. He is commander of the celestial forces as described in the Book of Apocalypse: "War was declared in the heavens; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon." His Latin name, Quis ut deus, means "one like God."
The archangel Gabriel is the messenger of God and is known by his rich garments and the white liIies he carries in his hands. AIso called Vis dei, which means "strength of God," the flowers he carries represent purity and the message of God.
Raphael is the third of the archangels, his Latin name,Ablation dei, means "medicine or cleansing of God." He is the angel which guides and accompanies those in travel, and is recognizable for his humble clothing, badge and cape. His effigies often include a string of
fish or a guide dogo
Uriel, or Lumen die, is the light or fire of God. AIso called Raziel, this angel is often portrayed
with a fiery heart or wielding a flaming
The remuneratory angel of God is
Jehudiel, or Jophiel. His Latin name,
Pax dei, signifies "peace of God" and
he is recognizable for his crown and
The archangel Sealtiel or Zeadkiel,
whose Latin name Timor dei means
"intercessor of God," is the celestial being
one should direct petitions to. He is portrayed
with his hands folded or carrying a thurible,
the metal incense bumer used during Mass
which hangs from chains. He is generally shown
in a position which denotes adoration towards God.
The last of the archangels is Baraquiel or Malthiel. Known in Latin as Benedictio dei, he is the assistant or blessing of God.
Saint...who? is a new perrnanent colurnn which encourages the interchange of ideas and comments regarding the saints and why it is that they have become the impetus of creation, festivals, name-giving and devotion. Send your questions and observations regarding uncommon saints or religious images which you may ha ve come across. Through reader participation we will try to put a name and background to some of the spirits which may have you wondering, "Saint... who?!".