Archangels Michael and Raphael

Arcángeles San Miguel y San Rafael

Feast day: September 29, Saint Michael; October 24, Saint Raphael

Saint Michael: Patron of the sick, radiologists, grocers, mariners, police officers, paratroopers, cemeteries, and the sick. Invoked in times of temptation and at the moment of death.

Saint Raphael: Patron of travelers, physicians, nurses, lovers, health inspectors, and the sightless. Invoked in illness, mainly illness related to sight.

Essay by Jillian Franzen

The Celestial Hierarchy written by Dionysius the Areopagite in the fifth century outlines a schema of nine choirs of angels divided into three Orders: The first and highest Order contains Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; the second includes Principalities, Virtues, and Powers; the third Order contains Dominions, Archangels, and Angels. Even though archangels are the second to lowest choir, they are important heavenly beings in many different religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. They are known to take on the administrative duties of the heavenly realm, engage in spiritual battles with demons, and facilitate the connection between God and human beings. Originally, there were seven archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraquael, Raguil, and Haniel. These seven have since been limited to only three, Saints Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel in the Council of Latrão in 746. The NMSU retablo collection has examples representing Saint Michael and Saint Raphael.

The Archangel Raphael, whose name means “God heals,” is known as the chief of the guardian angels and brings people’s prayers before God. He is also known to have helped the young Tobias catch a fish that cured his father Tobit’s blindness (Tob. 3:16-17). It is also written that he moved the waters of the healing pool in Jerusalem (John 5: 1-4). Raphael holds a fish in his left hand and a gourd of water hanging from a staff in the opposite hand because of these two miracles (Fig. 2, 3). He wears blue, yellow, and red garments in addition to a gold diadem with a small cross rising up from the center. There are two red and green feathers coming up from the back of his headpiece and two white wings emerging from behind his back. Sometimes, however, he is represented with only one feather (Fig. 3). Saint Raphael’s sole feast day was traditionally celebrated on October 24 but was joined with Gabriel on Michael’s feast day of September 29 with the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969.

The Archangel Michael, his name meaning “who is like God,” is seen as the leader of the heavenly armies, the protector against the Devil or Satan, and the defender of the people of Israel. Michael is sometimes depicted holding a set of scales as he is responsible for escorting souls into heaven and assisting with the Final Judgment. Saint Michael holds a gold vessel, or ostensorium, representing the Eucharist (Fig. 1). He also holds a flaming sword and is standing atop a six-headed creature representing his triumph in defeating Satan “who was cast unto the earth and his angels were thrown down with him” as described in the Book of Revelation (12: 7-9). He is dressed in garments of red, blue, and green with a pair of white wings emerging from his back and wears a hat with three green, red, and white feathers–the colors of the Mexican flag.

Figure 1. Saint Michael. Anonymous Mexico, Nineteenth Century

Oil on tin. 14 x 10″ NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.3.63 Donor: Dr. and Mrs. Andrew M. Babey

Figure 2. Saint Raphael. Anonymous Mexico, Nineteenth Century

Oil on tin. 14 x 10″ NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1969.4.62.                        

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich

Figure 3. Saint Raphael, Anonymous Mexico, Nineteenth Century

Oil on tin. 10 x 7”.  NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.3.35                        

Donor: Dr. Andrew M. Babey


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Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil Zarur and Charles Muir Lovell, ed.  Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.