Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels,“Christe, sanctorum decus Angelorum,” by Rhabanus Maurus Magnentius (c. 780-856), a Frankish Benedictine monk; trans. Charles Stanley Phillips (1883-1949)
maker of all things, ruler of all nations,
grant of thy mercy unto us thy servants
steps up to heaven.
Send thine archangel Michael to our succor;
peacemaker blessèd, may he banish from us
striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful
all things may prosper.
Send thine archangel Gabriel, the mighty;
herald of heaven, may he, from us mortals,
drive every evil, watching o’er the temples
where thou art worshiped.
Send from the heavens Raphael, thine archangel,
health-bringer blessed, aiding every sufferer,
that, in thy service, he may wisely guide us,
healing and blessing.
May the blest mother of our God and Savior,
may the celestial company of angels,
may the assembly of the saints in heaven
help us to praise thee.
That crisp autumn chill has really enveloped our days lately, and Michaelmas (or the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels / Feast of St. Michael, St. Raphael, & St. Gabriel) is just around the corner on September 29. This somewhat mysterious feast day really feels like the start of the whole host of autumnal festivities.
Michaelmas is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, and since it’s placed right at the beginning of Autumn, it incorporates all sorts of meals, animals, and flowers that are emblematic of that liminal time.
I was inspired to reflect on Michaelmas through a variety of art projects this year, and I thought I’d walk you through some of them here!
On the Sunday before Michaelmas – known as ‘Domhnach Curran’, or ‘Carrot Sunday’ – Hebridean women would head to the fields to pull carrots, hoping for a lucky two-pronged root. If the soil were soft enough, they could easily pull the carrots – but, if the soil were hard, a three-pronged mattock was used to dig a triangle (called a torcan) around the carrot. The triangular shape symbolized St. Michael’s shield, while the three-pronged mattock used to dig it symbolized his trident.
As the ladies dug, they would sing a rhyme (this sweet rhyme is recorded in the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael):
Torcan torrach, torrach, torrach,
Sonas curran corr orm,
Michael mil a bhi dha m’chonuil,
Bride gheal dha m’chonradh.
Piseach linn gach piseach,
Piseach dha mo bhroinn,
Piseach linn gach piseach,
Piseach dha mo chloinn.
Cleft fruitful, fruitful, fruitful,
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me,
Michael the brave endowing me,
Bride the fair be aiding me.
Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny,
Progeny on my womb,
Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny,
Progeny on my progeny.
And if a lady were lucky enough to dig up a two-pronged carrot, she would continue:
Fhorca shona, shona, shona,
Fhorca churran mot orm,
Conuil curran corr orm,
Sonas curran mor dhomh.
Fork joyful, joyful, joyful,
Fork of great carrot to me,
Endowment of carrot surpassing upon me,
Joy of great carrot to me.
Being so enamored by this Hebridean tradition, I also had to incorporate it into a little three-dimensional Michaelmas paper scene – complete with a little patch of dirt, where Goose can pull three carrots and see if she’ll find the lucky forked carrot!
Blackberries are also a significant part of Michaelmas tradition. According to legend, St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven on Michaelmas (originally, this legend was attached to Old Michaelmas – which was on October 10th). Lucifer landed in a blackberry bramble, and being so angered by the prickles, he spat on them – so, it became unlucky to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, since they would be spoiled.
“On Michaelmas Day, the devil puts his foot on blackberries.”Irish proverb
Because of this association, blackberry desserts are a popular tradition for Michaelmas – whether blackberry pie or cobbler, it’s considered the last time of the season to use these late berries.
My little Michaelmas paper scene also brings in this tradition of blackberry picking – Goose gathers blackberries from an autumnal bramble, putting them in her basket to bring home for cobbler!
Another beautiful mealtime tradition is the baking of the struan Micheil – a cake made from the grains grown on the local farmstead.
As Alexander Carmichael records in the Carmina Gadelica, a “cake called ‘struan Micheil’ is made of all the cereals grown on the farm during the year. It represents the fruits of the field, as the lamb represents the fruits of the flocks. Oats, bere, and rye are the only cereals grown in the Isles. These are fanned on the floor, ground in the quern, and their meal in equal parts used in the struan.”
As milk was added to the grain meal, a little verse was recited:
Ruth agus rath an treo,
Run Mhicheil, dion an Teor.
Progeny and prosperity of family,
Mystery of Michael, protection of Trinity.
This struan would have then been brought to church on the morning of Michaelmas to be blessed, and farmers would give portions of their struan, along with other food, to the poor.
Michaelmas Icons & Art Journaling
I pulled the symbols of some of these beautiful Michaelmas traditions into this Michaelmas Icons print! This is obviously not exhaustive, but is just a collection of the things that really called out to me this year – I’d love to add to it year by year, which is part of the beauty of the liturgical calendar.
I also had this icon print turned into sticker sheets, which have been so fun for our kids to work with…but I’ve also enjoyed using them in my liturgical year art journal!
Speaking of which…in an effort to dive into all these beautiful holidays and traditions, I started keeping an art journal devoted to the liturgical year. I’ll share in more detail about that later…but my basic approach is to research the origins and traditions of a holiday, and then see what whimsical critters appear in my sketches inspired by my notes.
If you’re interested in joining along, I’m sharing monthly liturgical year art journal prompt pages (and keeping it simple with just one holiday per month)! They’re free for you to download and print, so you can walk through the symbolism and traditions of these celebrations in your journals, too.
Here are some wonderful online resources to help you celebrate Michaelmas (this is an ecumenical list – if you have any resources you’d like to share, please let me know!):
- Around the Year: Michaelmas
- All The Household: St. Michael and All Angels
- The Homely Hours: Michaelmas
- Carrots for Michaelmas: Michaelmas Traditions
I also want to share with you a beautiful local tradition out here in the PNW – St. Mark’s Cathedral, an Episcopal cathedral in Seattle, WA, sings Compline every Sunday evening, and this is broadcast via our local classical music station. You can also stream their broadcast online, and they offer a beautiful Michaelmas compline: