On September 29 the Church celebrates the Feast of Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Archangels. This year is also the 130th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII directing that the prayer to St Michael be said after every Low Mass. Following the changes in 1964 the prayer largely fell out use and resulted in a decline of devotion to St Michael and awareness of the need to pray for his protection.
However, throughout the world today there is still a strong commitment to invoke this great protector. Here are five shrines of St Michael throughout the world where he continues to be honoured.
St Francis of Assisi believed that this shrine was so holy that he would not enter it. Many have claimed that it is one of the holiest places in Italy. It has always been a place that has drawn the saints to pray including, St Bridget of Sweden, St Bernard of Clarvaux, St Padre Pio and at least seven popes.
The origins of the shrine lie in the story of an apparition of St Michael. In 490AD a man had lost his prize bull and finally after much searching found it in a cave kneeling down. Despite his efforts to get to the bull he was unable to do so and decided to kill the bull with a bow and arrow. Rather than striking the bull the arrow turned around and struck the farmer instead. The man was so frightened and perplexed by this supernatural event that he went to see the Bishop. The Bishop was doubtful and decided to take no action.
Several years later the Bishop’s city and diocese was at risk of attack from an invading army. St Michael this time appeared to the Bishop promising that the townspeople would not be defeated if a church was built over the cave. The Bishop’s doubts still prevailed and no church was built.
It was after seeking the advice of the Pope much later that the Bishop went with some other clergy and prayed at the cave. This time the apparition was more powerful and St Michael ordered the Bishop to enter the cave and told him that it was from now on be treated as consecrated ground because the angel had made it’s very stones holy.
Whatever the origins, the Church and cave today it is an exceptionally ‘thin’ and sacred place. The cave remains the focus and the church is fairly plain and unassuming. It is certainly worth visiting, especially as it is near to Padre Pio’s shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo.
St Michael’s Church is thought to have been founded by St Senan in 550AD who gave the Church its dedication. After a number of years the church fell into disrepair and became a ruin.
It was in 1632 that a local woman had a series of dreams where she was told that if she came to the ruined church she would find a spring which had curative properties. When she finally went to the church the pony she was riding went to some rushes and discovered the source of water. The woman, Mrs O’Gorman, claimed that she was immediately cured of the gout that she suffered.
Later Mrs O’Gorman went to the parish priest who was also reported to have been cured from an ailment. News spread and thousands made their way to the spring. After a short while the well was dedicated to St Michael by the Bishop of Killaloe.
Today the well is a focus of local pilgrimage. Mass continues to be celebrated at the shrine and Stations of the Cross have also been erected between the altar and the well.
The original site of this church is now a pilgrimage destination for a completely different reason. It is now the home to the famous San Miguel Brewery. Since 1913 the church has been on a new site nearby where it once also served as the pro-cathedral of Manila when the cathedral was damaged during the Second World War.
The original foundation dates back to 1603 when the Jesuits established a community. Today’s church is recognised locally by its two symmetrical baroque bell towers and became the national shrine to St Michael and the Archangels in 1986.
Unusually the priests of the shrine have permission to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation twice a week and this has made the Church a major focus for the local Catholic community.
The number of pilgrims has dropped over the last few years and this is thought to be partly due to the proximity to the official residence of the President of Manila and the number of checkpoints that pilgrims often have to pass through as a consequence. Despite this many pilgrims still visit and pray for protection.
Of all the shrines and churches featured this has to be the most humble. It stands in the back garden of a fairly normal house in an ordinary residential street. At certain times of the year busloads of pilgrims visit this place.
The shrine dates back almost eighty years when a local boy made a promise to St Michael as he was dying from a brain tumour. He asked his parents to bring him an icon of St Michael. As he embraced the image he claimed to see an apparition of the archangel. Despite being told his tumour was inoperable the boy recovered and his parents built the tiny church in thanksgiving. He lived until 2007.
The shrine now claims many miracles alongside that of the boy’s recovery and attracts Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims.
Before the reformation there were many Catholic Churches dedicated to St Michael in Britain, especially those on hilltops. Many still bear that dedication and some, such as Mount St Michael in Cornwall, continue to be famous tourist attractions. None seem to have regained their previous focuses as places of pilgrimage to the great archangel. However one small and little known chapel could easily become a destination for the individual pilgrim.
The chapel of the Sacred Heart and St Michael is often overlooked and yet it is one of the most richly decorated chapels within Westminster Cathedral. Sitting to the north of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, it is a very narrow space ending in an apse. I only discovered this special place after several visits to the Cathedral.
The altar frontal is in the form of a bas relief of St Michael slaying a dragon and the whole chapel is has a rich red emphasis thanks to the composition of the stunning mosaics. It is worth visiting next time that you are nearby.
St Michael was such an important part of pre-reformation Catholic life and spirituality in Britain and thanks to Pope Leo XIII’s prayer this was partly restored for a time. It would be wonderful if we could regain some sort of devotion to St Michael in our country and feel the benefits of his protection in our challenging times.
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 Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.