I have always had a special affinity with St Michael and All Angels’ Day, or Michaelmas, as St Michael was the patron saint of my school. We used to have a special service in the parish church followed by our annual prizegiving and speech day. The stage would be decorated with banks of michaelmas daisies in a huge variety of colours and we all wore michaelmas daisy buttonholes on our blazers!
I remember hearing the lesson from Revelation read each year about the war in heaven and how Michael and his angels fought against Lucifer or the devil and cast him, and his angels, out of heaven. The passage ends with the following words:
‘Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows his time is short!
Quite a dramatic reading as is the striking statue of St Michael, spear in hand, defeating the serpent, which was mounted on the west wall of Coventry Cathedral at its reopening in 1961. He is honoured as the greatest of all the angels for his defeat of Lucifer.
Michaelmas has for long been part of the secular calendar too. It has been one of the four quarter days of the financial, judicial and academic year
The name Michaelmas comes from a shortening of “Michael’s Mass”, in the same style as Christmas (Christ’s Mass) and Candlemas (Candle Mass, the Mass where traditionally the candles to be used throughout the year would be blessed).
In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman’s year. “At that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year.”
Because it falls near the equinox, this holy day is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. It was also one of the English, Welsh, and Irish, Quarter Days, when accounts had to be settled. On manors, it was the day when a reeve was elected from the peasants. Michaelmas hiring fairs were held at the end of September or beginning of October.
Michaelmas is used in the extended sense of autumn, as the name of the first term of the academic year, which begins at this time, at various educational institutions in the United Kingdom, Ireland and those parts of the Commonwealth in the northern hemisphere.
The Inns of Court of the English Bar and the Honourable Society of King’s Inns in Ireland have a Michaelmas term as one of their dining terms. It begins in September and ends towards the end of December.
The term is also the name of the first of four terms into which the legal year is divided by the courts of Ireland and England and Wales.
In the City of London, Michaelmas is the day when the new Lord Mayor of London is elected, in the Common Hall.
Folklore in the British Isles suggests that Michaelmas day is the last day that blackberries can be picked. It is said that when St Michael expelled Lucifer, the devil, from heaven, he fell from the skies and landed in a prickly blackberry bush. Satan cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, stamped and spat on them, so that they would be unfit for eating. As it is considered ill-advised to eat them after 11 October (Old Michaelmas Day according to the Julian Calendar), a Michaelmas pie is made from the last of the season.
We are celebrating Harvest this Sunday, so there we have our link with food and seasonal produce. We give thanks for all that the land provides us with, even in these difficult days of climate change and increasing concern over the cost of living. We give particular thanks for the work done by our food banks, to whom our harvest collection will be taken, for the time given to this invaluable work by volunteers and we ask God’s blessing on all those who use them.
‘Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order: grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so, at your command, they may help and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.’
Collect for St. Michael and All Angels
‘Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness, and you give us the fruits of the earth in your season: grant that we may use them to your glory, for the relief of those in need and for our own well- being; through Jesus Christ your Son, who is alive and reigns with you our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Gillian Gyenes LLM