Michaelmas (/ˈmɪkəlməs/ MIK-əl-məs; also known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) is a Christian festival observed in some Western liturgical calendars on 29 September. In some denominations a reference to a fourth angel, usually Uriel, is also added. Michaelmas has been one of the four quarter days of the financial year.[2]

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Raphael
Saint Michael the Archangel
Observed by
Date29 September (Western Christianity) 8 November (Eastern Christianity)

In Christian angelology, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven.[3]


In the fifth century a basilica near Rome was dedicated in honour of Michael on 30 September, beginning with celebrations on the eve of that day, and 29 September is now kept in honour of Michael and all Angels throughout some western churches.[4] 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 candles used throughout the year would be blessed).[5]

During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation, but this tradition was abolished in the 18th century.[6] In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman's year, George C. Homans observes: "at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year."[7]

Because it falls near the equinox, it 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.[8] Michaelmas hiring fairs were held at the end of September or beginning of October.[9]


On the Isle of Skye, Scotland, a procession was held.[6] Many of the activities that had been done at Lughnasadh – sports, games and horse races – migrated to this day.[10] One of the few flowers left around at this time of year is the Michaelmas daisy (also known as asters). Hence the rhyme: "The Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, Bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds ..."[9]


A traditional meal for the day includes goose (a "stubble-goose", i.e. one prepared around harvest time).[11]

The custom of baking a special bread or cake, called Sruthan Mhìcheil (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [ˈs̪t̪ɾu.an ˈviːçal]), St Michael's bannock, or Michaelmas Bannock on the eve of the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel probably originated in the Hebrides. The bread was made from equal parts of barley, oats, and rye without using any metal implements.[10] In remembrance of absent friends or those who had died, special Struans, blessed at an early morning Mass, were given to the poor in their names.[12] Nuts were traditionally cracked on Michaelmas Eve.[13]

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, spat and urinated on them, so that they would be unfit for eating. As it is considered ill-advised to eat them after 29 September, a Michaelmas pie is made from the last of the season.[11]

Differences in number of archangels

Raphael and Michael
Uriel and Gabriel
Stained glass of the four archangels, at the Church of St James, Grimsby.

In Anglican and Episcopal tradition, there are three or four archangels in its calendar for 29 September feast for St. Michael and All Angels: namely Michael, Gabriel and Raphael,[4] and often, Uriel.[14][15][16][17]

For the Roman Catholic Church 29 September is referred only to the three Archangels mentioned in the Bible: Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael. Their feast were unified in one common day during the second half of the 20th century. In the time before their feasts were: 29 September (only St Michael), 24 March for St Gabriel, and, lastly, 24 October for St Raphael.

Autumn term in universities

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 the Commonwealth.[8] These include the universities of Cambridge, Durham, Lancaster, the London School of Economics, Oxford, Swansea, and Dublin. However, the ancient Scottish universities used the name Martinmas for their autumn term, following the old Scottish term days.

The Inns of Court of the English Bar and the Honorable Society of King's Inns in Ireland also 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[18] and England and Wales.[19]

In the United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland, a Red Mass is traditionally convened on the Sunday closest to Michaelmas, in honor of and to bless lawyers and judges.

Modern observances

Because Saint Michael is the patron of some North American police officers, Michaelmas may also be a Blue Mass.[20] However, the same can also be said for members of the United States military, children, and several of St. Michael's other patronages. Lutheran Christians consider it a principal feast of Christ, and the Lutheran Confessor, Philip Melanchthon, wrote a hymn for the day that is still sung in Lutheran churches: "Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise" (The Lutheran Hymnal 254).

Michaelmas is still celebrated in the Waldorf schools, which celebrate it as the "festival of strong will" during the autumnal equinox. Rudolf Steiner considered it the second most important festival after Easter, Easter being about Christ ("He is laid in the grave and He has risen"). Michaelmas is about man once he finds Christ ("He is risen, therefore he can be laid in the grave"), meaning man finds the Christ (risen), therefore he will be safe in death (laid in the grave with confidence).[21]

In the City of London, Michaelmas is the day when the new Lord Mayor of London is elected, in the Common Hall.[22]

Old Michaelmas Day

Old Michaelmas Day falls on 11 October (10 October according to some sources – the dates are the result of the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar). It is said that the Devil fell out of Heaven on this date, and fell into a blackberry bush, cursing the fruit as he fell. According to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date (see above). In Yorkshire, it is said that the devil had spat on them. According to Morrell (1977), this old legend is well known in all parts of the United Kingdom, even as far north as the Orkney Islands. In Cornwall, a similar legend prevails; however, the saying goes that the devil urinated on them.[9]

See also


  1. Donald Spence Jones (1898). The Anglican Church. Cassell. p. 290.
  2. Philip's Encyclopedia. Philip's. 2008. p. 511. ISBN 978 0 540 09151 5.
  3. Richard Freeman Johnson (2005), Saint Michael the Archangel in medieval English legend, Boydell Press, p. 105, retrieved 11 July 2010
  4. "29 September". Exciting Holiness. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  5. "Michaelmas".
  6. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Michael the Archangel". Newadvent.org. 1 October 1911. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  7. George C. Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century, 2nd ed. 1991:354.
  8. "Michaelmas, 29th September, and the customs and traditions associated with Michaelmas Day". Historic-uk.com. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  9. "Michaelmas Traditions". Black Country Bugle. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  10. Randal W. Oulton (13 May 2007). "Michaelmas Bannock". Cooksinfo.com. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  11. "Are we ready to embrace the Michaelmas goose once again?". BBC News. 29 September 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  12. Goldman, Marcy. "The Harvest Bread of Michaelmas". BetterBaking.com. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  13. Koenig, Chris (21 September 2011). "Merry times at the Michaelmas Feast". The Oxford Times. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  14. "urielsg4". Urielsg.org. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  15. Episcopal Church, Standing Liturgical Commission. The proper for the lesser feasts and fasts: together with the fixed holy days, Church Hymnal Corp., 1988, ISBN 978-0-89869-214-3. p. 380
  16. "Michael and All Angels". Justus.anglican.org. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  17. Archived 4 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Ireland, Courts Service of. "TERMS & SITTINGS:TERMS & SITTINGS / High Court:High Court Sittings: Law Terms". www.courts.ie. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  19. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom; Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Judicial Sitting for the Michaelmas Term, Monday 4th October –Tuesday 21st December 2010 (PDF), retrieved 8 November 2010
  20. "Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels - September 29, 2014 - Liturgical Calendar". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  21. "Rudolf Steiner Archive: Lectures:GA". Fremont, Michigan US: Rsarchive.org. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  22. "Summons to Common Hall". liverycompanies.info. Retrieved 27 September 2016.

Further reading

  • Morrell, P. (1977). Festivals and Customs. London: Pan (Piccolo). ISBN 0-330-25215-1
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