This was a pretty big day for centuries, and still is contained in our LCMS calendar. Phillip Melanchthon even wrote a poem for the day which became a hymn, "Lord God, To Thee We Give All Praise", or "Dicimus grates tibi summe rerum" in his Latin original, yes, Latin, which is hymn 254 in The Lutheran Hymnal, or, I suppose it won't hurt to say, 522 in LSB.
Here's why the big deal.
Michael is one of the angels, and is mentioned by name in three books of the Bible, Daniel, Jude and Revelation aka the Apocalypse.
In Daniel, Gabriel, another leading angel, tells Daniel that Michael is his helper in defending the Jews, this wrt Daniel's prayer that the Jews be able to return to Jerusalem (Daniel 10) and later (Daniel 12) Michael is again identified as he who stands up for "the sons of thy people", the Jews, who will do so in the final battle at the end of time. This is the only time he is mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible.
It is not the only time he appears, depending on who you listen to. Some say he is the "captain of the host of the Lord" in the Book of Josue, or Joshua, 5:13-15, but some say this cannot be since he accepted worship and only God can do that. So some then say the figure was actually a disguised appearance of God himself, and some say (like my historical-critical Scripture profs in college) that that is what "angels" are anyway, not separate beings but muted references due to piety for God himself so Man can stand the interaction.
Rabbinic tradition variously credits him with being the angel who rescued Abraham from Nimrod's furnace, who protected Sarah from being defiled as Abraham's sister as Abraham tried to protect her by calling his sister and not wife, who told Sarah she would have a son, who brought the ram provided by God for Abraham to substitute for that son Isaac in sacrifice, who was the angel who wrestled with Jacob, with being the angel who spoke to Moses in the burning bush and later taught Moses the Law, on and on, including things in writings not in the Hebrew Bible such as protecting Adam and Eve after the Fall and teaching him how to farm.
This role of protector and defender was passed on to the early Christian church, among so much else in Judaism, not just in these stories, but he is mentioned twice in the New Testament.
In the Letter of Jude, verse 9, he argues with Satan over Moses' body, also a Jewish theme, keeping the Moses' body hidden so reverence would be directed to God and not misplaced hero worship (saint veneration?) and in the Book of Revelation, or The Apocalypse, chapter 12, Michael is given a similar role in the last battle at the end of time as he had in the revolt of the angels in heaven at the beginning, as military leader of the forces of good.
There are many other legends of Michael's intervention on behalf of Christians in history, of which we will mention two as particularly noteworthy. He is said to have worked with the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and a celebration on 8 November became the main feast of St Michael in the Eastern Church. Also he is said to have appeared over the mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome to answer the prayers of Pope St Gregory the Great in 950 that a plague in Rome stop, after which the mausoleum, destroyed by the Visigoths and Goths but rebuilt as a papal fort and residence, was called Castel Sant'Angelo, Church of the Holy Angel, and still is to this day.
It was connected by a fortified covered passage, the Passeto di Borgo, to St Peter's Basilica by Pope Nicholas II (pope from 25 November 1277 to 22 August 1280), to provide an escape route for the popes, which turned out handy for Pope Clement VII.
There's a story. Clement had allied with French forces to offset the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession was presented, and Charles' army had defeated them in Italy. However, there was no money to pay the soldiers, and it is never ever a good idea to mess with military payroll then, now, or ever. In this case, the troops figured well hell, there's all these riches in Rome, let's go there and take them, which is exactly what they did, about wiping out the Swiss Guards on 5/6 May 1527, the "Sack of Rome". Clement made it out to Castel Sant'Angelo but became a prisoner there and eventually surrendered on 6 June.
Neither the HRE Charles nor Martin Luther approved of this, but it did have the practical effect of curbing papal power, with a lot of money and land changing hands, over the Holy Roman Empire. Luther saw Christ's providence in this, saying that the Emperor who persecuted the Lutheran Reformation for the Pope ends up himself having to destroy the Pope. Might just be something to that. To commemorate the fight put up by the Swiss Guards, new ones have their swearing-in on 6 May to this day.
The Passeto and Castel sant'Angelo still exist, the latter now as an Italian national museum, and has a HUGE statue of St Michael on top of it. Not surprisingly, so much intrigue having played out in it historically, it is the headquarters of the "Illuminati" in the fictional "Angel and Demons" by Dan Brown of da Vinci Code fame, now playing at your local theatres.
St Michael has thus become the patron of guardians of various kinds, from policemen to the sick. Western church writings speak of his feast from at least the 6th century, and other observances based on other appearances and legends arose elsewhere. But 29 September as the Feast of St Michael is among the oldest observances in the Western calendar.
We ain't done! Michaelmas has all sorts of stuff attached to it. For centuries, it was a holy day of obligation -- you gotta go to Mass. As the Germans were Christianised, St Michael took the place of Wotan, and you will find St Michael chapels in the mountains, previously sacred to Wotan, there to this day. Michaelmas is also one of the four Quarter Days in Mother England: Lady Day 25 March, Midsummer Day 24 June, Michaelmas 29 September, Christmas 25 December.
What the hell is a Quarter Day? These are four days roughly equivalent to the two equinoxes and two solstices, when business and legal dealings need to be settled -- rents and bills are due (the rent thing is still often followed in England), judges had to visit outlying areas to make sure no matters go on unresolved, servants and labourers are hired so employment isn't up in the air, stuff like that. This is big stuff, coming from the Magna Carta itself of 1215, when the barons secured against the king, John at the time, the principle that no-one's right to justice will be sold, denied, or delayed.
Ever gone to a job fair resume in hand to meet prospective employers? You're right in the tradition of Michaelmas! At harvest's end, on the day after Michaelmas labourers would assemble in the towns for just that purpose with a sign of the work they do in their hands to get employment for the next year. Such events came to be called Mop Fairs, from those seeking employment as maids showing up with a broom in hand, a resume to show the prospective employer what work they could do.
Pay your taxes due in April? You're right in the tradition of the Quarter Days! Hell, Lady Day was the first day of the calendar year until the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, and when taxes were due. The English tax year still starts on "Old" Lady Day, 6 April.
Oh btw, the lady in Lady Day is Jesus' mother Mary, and the day is more widely known as the Feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she would bear Jesus, nine months before his birth 25 December, Julian refers to Julius Caesar who set the old calendar, and Gregorian refers to Pope St Gregory who modified it into what we use to-day.
In England, the modified more accurate Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, and on 3 September in the old Julian Calendar it became 14 September in the new Gregorian calendar. Many were confused by this, thinking they had lost 11 days of their lives, leading to protests in the streets. Michaelmas was the first big deal to happen after the change, leading some to say that since we lost 11 days, Michaelmas is really 10 October in the new calendar, which is then "Old" Michaelmas Day.
A lot of the resistance to the Gregorian calendar came from it being done by a pope -- it was actually the work of Aloysius Lilius, and Gregory made it official 24 February 1582 in the papal bull "inter gravissimas", named as is the custom in many places from its first couple of words, which here mean "among the most serious" -- and changing to it was taken in many Protestant countries as a deference to papal power.
Michaelmas was also the start of winter curfew, which lasts until Shrove Tuesday, with bells being rung at 2100 hours to signal the curfew, which is literally lights out, "curfew" meaning "cover the fire", put out the household fires and lamps.
Michaelmas is also called Goose Day, goose is eaten for the meal, coming from the practice of those who couldn't pay their rent or bills on the Quarter Day offering a goose instead to the landlord. There's an old rhyme -- He who eats goose on Michaelmas Day, shan't money lack his debts to pay.
It also started the new term, Michaelmas term, at Oxford and Cambridge. Still does!
It is also the day when peasants on manors elected their new reeve. What the hell is a reeve? A serf elected by the other serfs to manage the land for the landowner nobleman, the lord. A reeve of an entire shire was a shire-reeve. What the hell is a shire? That's what counties were called before the Norman Conquest, county being the name of the land controlled by a count in continental Europe where the damn Normans came from. Bunch of old stuff lost in history? Got a sheriff in your county? It's exactly why the chief law enforcement officer of your county is called a sheriff, a contraction over time of shire reeve.
So there's stuff from this all around our modern life. And now, maybe, one more. Back to the legends about St Michael, one of them is, when he kicked Satan out of heaven, which was on 29 September story goes, Satan fell to earth and landed in a bunch of blackberry thorns, which totally ticked him off so he cursed the fruit of the bush, stomped on them, breathed fire on them, spat on them and just generally went nuts. This curse renews every Michaelmas Day, so, what ever you do, DO NOT pick or eat blackberries after Michaelmas!
Which in our age opens a whole new question -- if you have a Blackberry phone, can you use it after Michaelmas Day?
Aren't saint's days just a riot? A little bit of something real -- there really is a St Michael the Archangel and he really is the military commander of God's forces, stands ready with all the faithful angels to help and protect you, and will function as such on the End Time -- a whole lot of legend, leading to some pretty amazing history, both of which have left common elements large and small on life to-day.
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