Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend

Article excerpt

Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2005). xii + 174 pp. ISBN 1-84383-128-7. £45.00.

The importance and popularity of St Michael the Archangel appears from the many villages, churches, colleges - even an Italian campsite - named after him, as well as from the many books written about him by hagiographical scholars. Within the latter category we may include Richard F. Johnson's monograph on the role of St Michael in medieval English legend. An elaboration on Johnson's doctoral dissertation (1998), the book sets out to analyse the position and roles of St Michael as they appear from medieval English texts. The result is an interesting discussion of how certain motifs from the archangel's biblical and literary background function in a variety of texts from medieval England.

Johnson's book is divided into two parts. Part 1 discusses the 'genesis and migration' of the St Michael legends with the aim of establishing the tradition upon which later English hagiographers drew. A distinction is made between the literary origins and the legendary origins of St Michael. First, a selection of texts, varying from Judaic to early Christian sources, provides the basis for St Michael's roles of guardian angel, intercessor, psychopomp, and champion in the battle against Satan. Subsequently, we are shown how worshipping the archangel first started in Asia Minor, where he became associated with ancient water sites. From there, the cult of St Michael hopped to Italy, where it established a foothold on Monte Gargano in Apulia, before it was adopted by the Franks who venerated St Michael as the 'patron saint of [their] social, cultural and imperial ambitions' (p. 44), and whose own Mont Saint-Michel became the focus of Michael worship. Part 11 deals with the St Michael legend in medieval English texts, including - albeit briefly - texts in Anglo-Norman. From a sample selection of texts Johnson shows how the legend of Monte Gargano was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons and subsequently elaborated on with the help of other legendary materials. …

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