[This article is a sequel to the 9/19/21 email newsletter, “See the Unconquered Fortress of a Mighty Archangel”.]
Why does the Church venerate an invisible warrior? Because spiritual warfare is the lot of Christians on this earth. Pure and simple.
The great Archangel, St. Michael, is known as the Prince of the Heavenly Host because of the story in Revelation 12 and various teachings surrounding him that have come down through the Church’s long tradition. He ejected the Evil One and the apostate angels from heaven when they rebelled against God.
This revealed truth about Michael remains a symbol of his role in the life of the Church and in the life of anyone who invokes his intercession. He is the protector of the Holy Catholic Church in a spiritual sense, and he has always been invoked in times of crisis and spiritual need.
St. Michael’s Mystical Sword
Maybe this is why we can discern a mystical “sword” laying across the entire continent of Europe in the form of seven sanctuaries dedicated to St. Michael. I have no idea who was the first person to “connect the dots” of these sanctuaries, so to speak (see map), but the pattern is incontrovertible. The interpretation of this symbol is undoubtedly mystical and spiritual, fitting an angel.
If we imagine the hilt of the sword resting on Mount Carmel in modern day Israel, our Lord’s homeland, and the tip of the sword reaching all the way to the far Atlantic Coast of Ireland, we see the supernatural “Sword of St. Michael” lying across Europe. It’s a perfectly straight line with several of the sanctuaries evenly spaced along it.
Make of it what you will, but the line is crystal clear. If this spiritual sword does indeed belong to the greatest of angels, we can assume that, mystically, it has something to do with the preservation and spread of the ancient faith. Numerous of the sanctuaries were at one time places of pagan worship and one author notes that the line follows the exact trajectory of the sun during the Summer Solstice, an astrological phenomenon that was central to pagan worship.
As you look at the map below, note that the cut of the sword encompasses all areas that have been significant in the life of the Church: from the birthplace of the Church in the Holy Land; to the areas where the Church flourished in its infancy and the scenes of doctrinal disputes in the early centuries (the Greek and Roman empires); to the places of Christian battle in Europe and Asia (particularly the Crusades and other battlefields against Islam).
It became clear to me in my study, a few of the sanctuaries (particularly those in England and Ireland) have been the objects of an ongoing warfare. They are no longer functioning monasteries or centers of pilgrimage due to the divisions in the Church and the viciousness of men. We must pray for their restoration.
We must also pray that this sword will protect the ancient Christian heritage of the Middle East and Europe from all forces that wish to destroy it, whether radical Islam or the radical secularism and militant atheism that is sweeping Europe now.
The Prince of the Heavenly Host will respond to all assaults by the servants of Satan against God and His Church in the way he has done from the beginning of time – with a mystical sword and his booming battle cry, “Who is like unto God?”
The Seven Sanctuaries of the Sword
1 – Israel – Haifa, Mount Carmel, Stella Maris Monastery
A Ukrainian legend says that it was on top of Mount Carmel that St. Michael gave thunder to the Prophet Elijah to fight the prophets of Baal
This is not a direct connection to an apparition of St. Michael, but an association of St. Michael with Elijah in the conquest of paganism (see 1 Kings 18), a key connection with numerous other shrines in the sword
Elijah is often pictured as the Old Testament saint who wields a sword.
Greece – Symi, Taxiarchis Monastery – 2
This current Greek Orthodox monastery has its origins in a 6th century shrine built to house an icon of St. Michael the Archangel which was considered miraculous (this was before the east-west schism in Christianity)
The icon’s designation for Michael is “Taxiarchis” which means a commander of the heavenly host or Archangel
It is said that the icon appeared miraculously on that spot and also returned there miraculously whenever it was removed. It is believed that the spot was once a pagan temple.
3 – Italy – Gargano, Monte Sant’Angelo
Monte Gargano is reputed to be the place where St. Michael appeared to a bishop in or around the year 490 AD; these are the first known direct apparitions of St. Michael in Europe
Michael ordered the bishop to build a sanctuary of devotion to the archangel in a cave there and promised protection of the local Christian communities from pagan invaders
Shortly after that, Pope Gelasius directed that a basilica be erected in honor of the apparitions of Michael, and the site was a popular stopping off point in the Middle Ages for those going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Italy – Piedmont, Sacra di San Michele – 4
A Benedictine abbey named after St. Michael was built on top of Mount Pirichiano in the 10th century; the location was based on a legend that St. Michael had appeared to a hermit there and ordered him to build a church
Because of its breathtaking beauty and holiness, this sanctuary was the place that inspired the famous Italian writer, Umberto Eco to write his novel, The Name of the Rose
Members of the royal House of Savoy are buried in the basilica church.
5 – France – Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel
An ancient legend states that St. Michael appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches in 708 AD and told him to build a church on a rocky island known as Mount Tombe that had previously been dedicated to pagan worship
Michael the Archangel has been a principle patron saint of France since that time, and the French have invoked his protection against invaders such as the Vikings and later the English during the Hundred Years’ War
Mont Saint-Michel was a popular place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and has housed various communities of monks since the time of Bishop Aubert.
England – Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount – 6
A legend has it that St. Michael saved a group of fishermen caught in a storm in 495 AD by bringing them to the island, and they in turn dedicated it to him in thanksgiving;
In 1066, Edward the Confessor put the island under the authority of Mont Saint-Michel, to which it bears some resemblance in both its conical shape and tidal phenomena
In 1539 the monastery fell victim to the radicals of the Reformation who stole the island from the Catholic Church and essentially decommissioned it as a religious site; since 1659 it has been owned by a private family.
7 – Ireland – County Kerry, Skellig Michael
Skellig (“Shard of Rock”) Michael is connected to the legend of St. Patrick driving out snakes from Ireland as a sort of exorcism, reminiscent of St. Michael’s exorcism of heaven
The sharp rock jutting 700 feet out of the Atlantic was consecrated to St. Michael in the tenth century but was inhabited by hermits and monastic communities long before that; the remains of an ancient monastery are evident today
Like the English shrine, Skellig Michael was taken over and secularized by radicals during the Protestant upheaval and today is privately owned; almost as a symbol of its secularization, it has been the site of three Star Wars movies.
If you do not already know the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, try to learn it as a source of spiritual strength. If you already know it, say it daily so that you can nurture a devotion to the greatest of angels, who has the entire heavenly host at his disposal to do the work of God.
Don’t forget to ask Michael’s intercession not only for spiritual protection but also for the evangelization of souls who may not know Christ and who would benefit greatly from a dose of angelic holiness.
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.