One can hardly count the number of churches, shrines, monasteries, chapels — but also mountains, caves, and hills – named for St. Michael the Archangel.
The name Michael, which is mentioned five times in the Bible, is derived from a Hebrew expression meaning, “Who is like unto God?”
A string of these holy places dedicated to Michael extends from Cornwall in England to the Gargano Peninsula in Italy (the “spur” of the Italian “boot”). It was in this spot in Italy that veneration of the Archangel in Western Europe begins in the 5th century.
Known as Monte Sant’Angelo, this shrine is one of the oldest pilgrim destinations in Europe and over the centuries has attracted saints, kings, pilgrims, tourists and popes. It is said to have been consecrated by the archangel himself.
Other famous shrines to St. Michael the Archangel are Mont Saint Michel, of the northwest coast of France in Normandy and St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, England. During the crusades, warriors would stop at these shrines before leaving European soil to ask for protection of Michael.
Another famous place that bears Michael’s name is Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. This monument begun in the year 123 AD, was constructed as the tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian. In the 5th century it was converted into a fortress and became the refuge of popes when Rome was under attack.
In 590 AD, a legend says that Michael appeared on top of the building and sheathed his sword, signifying the end of the plague ravaging the city. That legend gave the place its present name and a statue of Michael still is atop the old mausoleum today.
Another story dates back to Oct. 13, 1884. Pope Leo XIII had just finished celebrating Mass at a chapel in the Vatican, when he paused for several minutes. His face, according to witnesses, showed horror and wonder.
Immediately afterward, Pope Leo went to his study, sat down at his desk, and wrote out a prayer to St Michael the Archangel. He then called his secretary and ordered him to make copies of the prayer, and have them sent to all the Bbishops of the world, with the command to recite the prayer at the end of every Mass.
Pope Leo revealed that he had seen a chilling vision of “legions of demons” attacking the church, and almost destroying it. Then he saw the St Michael intervening decisively to defend the church – not immediately, but much later, and only after the faithful had multiplied their fervent prayers to the Archangel.
In our times, the custom of reciting the St. Michael Prayer after Mass has fallen into disuse. But the custom was recalled by St. John Paul II at the Regina Coeli on 24 April 1994: “Although today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass,” he said, “I ask everyone not to forget it, and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”
Adapted by A.J. Valentini