29 September 2008

Feast of the Archangels - The Virgin of the Rocks

Today is the feast of the 3 known of 7 Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Today at Mass the priest reminded me of a 4th, Uriel, who he was unfamiliar with other than he was next to Michael in one of the stained glass windows in the Church. While he is not mentioned in the Bible specifically he is mentioned in Catholic tradition by among others, St. Gregory the Great. He was also one of the key angels in the children's story The Day the Angels Fell, which recounts the battle in Heaven between the good and bad angels.

In that account Uriel is rewarded for his faithfulness by becoming Jesus's guardian angel when he becomes Man. Another apochryphal account holds that it was Uriel who rescued St. John from Herod's massacre of the Innocents and brings him with his mother St. Elizabeth to be reunited with the Holy Family in Egypt. That story is the basis for the painting at left known as the Virgin of the Rocks by Da Vinci. From Wikipedia,

According to the standard interpretation of the paintings, they depict the Madonna in the centre ushering John towards Jesus, who is seated with the angel Uriel. Jesus is blessing John, who holds out his hands in a gesture of prayer. In the Louvre version, Uriel points towards John while looking out at the viewer.

This picture was used in the film The Da Vinci Code for its supposed hidden symbolism. There is no need to remind everyone of that scandalous film and even the Louvre roundly denounced the theory of Dan Brown as "far fetched" and a travesty of art history."

Because of the avid angel worship taking place in the early centuries of the Church,
Pope Zachary, at the Council of Rome of 745, intending to clarify the Church's teaching on the subject of angels and curb a tendency toward angel worship, condemned obsession with angelic intervention and angelolatry, but reaffirmed the approval of the practice of the reverence of angels. This synod struck many angels' names from the list of those eligible for veneration in the Church of Rome, including Uriel. Only the reverence of the archangels mentioned in the recognized Catholic canon of scriptures, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, remained licit.
Despite the uncertain historical accuracy of the existence of an archangel Uriel it is still a beautiful painting of Mary, Jesus, and St. John.

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