Michaelmas

Michaelmas also known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) is a minor Christian festival observed in some Western liturgical calendars on 29 September. In some denominations a reference to a fourth angel, usually Uriel, is also added. Michaelmas has been one of the four quarter days of the financial year. The Serbian Orthodox Church observes the feast, whereas most Eastern Orthodox Churches do not. The Greek and Romanian Orthodox honor the archangels on 8 November instead, observed by the Cherubim and Seraphim also. In Christian angelology, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven. He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes, as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.

In the fifth century a basilica near Rome was dedicated in honour of Michael on 30 September, beginning with celebrations on the eve of that day, and 29 September is now kept in honour of Michael and all Angels throughout some western churches. The name Michaelmas comes from a shortening of “Michael’s Mass,” in the same style as Christmas (Christ’s Mass) and Candlemas (Candle Mass, the Mass where traditionally candles used throughout the year would be blessed)

During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas, or the Feast of St. Michael, was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation, but this tradition was abolished in the 18th century. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman’s year, George C. Homans observes: “at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year. Because it falls near the equinox, it is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. It was also one of the English, Welsh and Irish quarter days when accounts had to be settled. On manors, it was the day when a reeve was elected from the peasants.Michaelmas hiring fairs were held at the end of September or beginning of October.

A traditional meal for the day includes goose (a “stubble-goose”, i.e. one prepared around harvest time). The custom of baking a special bread or cake, called Sruthan Mhìcheil, St Michael’s bannock, or Michaelmas Bannock on the eve of the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel probably originated in the Hebrides. The bread was made from equal parts of barley, oats, and rye without using any metal implements. In remembrance of absent friends or those who had died, special Struans, blessed at an early morning Mass, were given to the poor in their names. Nuts were traditionally cracked on Michaelmas Eve. Folklore in the British Isles suggests that Michaelmas day is the last day that blackberries can be picked. It is said that when St. Michael expelled Lucifer, the devil, from heaven, he fell from the skies and landed in a prickly blackberry bush. Satan cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, stamped, spat and urinated on them, so that they would be unfit for eating. As it is considered ill-advised to eat them after 29 September, a Michaelmas pie is made from the last of the season. In Anglican and Episcopal tradition, there are three or four archangels in its calendar for 29 September feast for St. Michael and All Angels: namely Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and, Uriel.

Because Saint Michael is the patron of some North American police officers, Michaelmas may also be a Blue Mass. However, the same can also be said for members of the United States military, and several of St. Michael’s other patronages. Lutheran Christians consider it a principal feast of Christ, and the Lutheran Confessor, Philip Melanchthon, wrote a hymn for the day that is still sung in Lutheran churches: “Lord God to Thee We Give”. Michaelmas is still celebrated in the Waldorf schools, which celebrate it as the “festival of strong will” during the autumnal equinox. Some consider it the second most important festival after Easter, Easter being about Christ (“He is laid in the grave and He has risen”). Michaelmas is about man once he finds Christ (“He is risen, therefore he can be laid in the grave”), meaning man finds the Christ (risen), therefore he will be safe in death (laid in the grave with confidence). In the City of London, Michaelmas is the day when the new Lord Mayor of London is elected, in the Common Hall.

Old Michaelmas Day falls on 11 October (10 October according to some sources – the dates are the result of the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar). It is said that the Devil fell out of Heaven on this date, and fell into a blackberry bush, cursing the fruit as he fell. According to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date. Legend states that the devil had either spat or uninated on them.

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