There seem to be angels and dragons everywhere in Somerset!
In this blog post, I will share some of the places I visited on my recent Glastonbury Experience journey and what I discovered about the angels and dragons there.
When you start to look around, you see that there are lots of angels and dragons everywhere, especially in our art, sculpture and churches.
I’ve always just accepted angels and dragons being here and part of our lives, but I never really knew why so writing this blog post has been an interesting journey of discovery.
It has definitely been information overload, angels and dragons are fascinating and vast topics and it’s not been easy to just write a short blog post… but I’m going to try to keep this Glastonbury Experience blog post to just a bit of the info I’ve discovered about Archangel Michael and the angels/dragons that decorate a few of the places in and around Glastonbury.
Some info about angels:
In the ‘Secrets of the Universe in Symbols’ by Sarah Bartlett, “Regarded as messengers of God by Jews, Christians and Muslims, they embody heavenly purity and benevolence…”
Some photos of angels and winged creatures that decorate the ancient 12th Century St Cuthbert’s Church in Wells, near Glastonbury in Somerset. It has a beautiful painted wooden roof decorated with angels, interesting history and carvings/stonework. For more of its history visit St Cuthbert’s website.
And this leads me on to St Michael/Archangel Michael, who he is and what he does, depends really on your faith and beliefs.
In the Sacred Sites blog on Glastonbury:
“St.Michael, or more properly the Archangel Michael, is traditionally regarded as an angel of light, the revealer of mysteries and the guide to the other world. Each of these qualities are in fact attributes of other earlier divinities that Michael supplanted. Frequently shown spearing dragons, St.Michael is widely recognized by scholars of mythology to be the Christian successor to pagan gods such as the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes, the Roman Mercury and the Celtic Bel. Mercury and Hermes were considered guardians of the elemental powers of the earth spirit, whose mysterious forces were sometimes represented by serpents and linear currents of dragon energy.”
According to Wikipedia:
“In the Roman Catholic teachings, Saint Michael has four main roles or offices. His first role is the leader of the Army of God and the leader of heaven’s forces in their triumph over the powers of hell. He is viewed as the angelic model for the virtues of the spiritual warrior, with the conflict against evil at times viewed as the battle within. The second and third roles of Michael in Catholic teachings deal with death. In his second role, Michael is the angel of death, carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven. In this role Michael descends at the hour of death, and gives each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing; thus consternating the devil and his minions. Catholic prayers often refer to this role of Michael. In his third role, he weighs souls in his perfectly balanced scales. For this reason, Michael is often depicted holding scales. In his fourth role, St Michael, the special patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament, is also the guardian of the Church. This role also extends to his being the patron saint of a number of cities and countries”
In Somerset, there are many churches and chapels dedicated/named after him, including the picturesque 13th Century (or possibly earlier) church of St Michael and All Angels in Somerton, near Glastonbury. It’s famous for its oak roof with its elaborate carvings, featuring 4 pairs of dragons, believed to have been carved by the carpenters from nearby Muchelnay Abbey around 1500.
Today Somerton is a small sleepy rural medieval hamlet, but once it was the main town of Somerset and even for a short while in the 7th Century, the capital of the ancient county of Wessex. In Medieval times it was an important crossroads on the road between London and the South-west, which has resulted in many lovely ancient medieval buildings and it’s a pretty place to wander around. For more of its history visit the Somerton Web Museum website.
“I don’t usually look up at ceilings, but it’s got me looking upwards to see what’s hidden there!”
Some info about dragons:
Wikipedia states that: “A dragon is a legendary creature, typically scaled or fire-spewing and with serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, that features in the myths of many cultures around the world.”
St Michael is often shown in images with his lance, battling a dragon. In Christianity and many other religions, it signifies good conquering evil.
But, there’s more to dragons than this… In China and many Asian countries, dragons are a symbol of good luck, power, and strength. There are many different types of dragons; ‘Wyvern’ dragons are
Until I began looking into why there are so many dragons here in Somerset, I hadn’t realised that it’s their main symbol. The Somerset county flag is a ‘Wyvern’ dragon in red and gold and for the past century it’s been on the coat of arms for Somerset County Council and it used to be the symbol for the ancient county of Wessex, but it has an even older history going back to Celtic symbols and the Romans. Many of the county’s logos, for schools, clubs and businesses feature ‘Wyvern’ dragons, and it’s on many other flags too, the most well-known one being the Welsh flag! For further info on the history of flags visit the: British County Flags blog
An alternative view of dragons can also be found on the interesting and inspiring ‘Glastonbury Tor: Maker of Myths’ website, written by Frances Howard-Gordon:
“The Goddess took many forms and was represented in a variety of different aspects, but believers would see her essential nature in the harmony and balance of the natural order, the ebb and flow growth and decay of life itself. She was evoked and celebrated on hills and mountains, these being her seats or thrones on earth. It is interesting to note that many early images of the Goddess have spirals on their breasts, resembling the spiral on the Tor. Spirals also symbolised the coiled serpent or dragon, both regarded as sacred in the old religion. The dragon or serpent represented the natural energies of the earth and the sky – energies which were cooperated with and revered. In the Shakti cults of south-east Asia and China, dragons and serpents were associated with clouds and rain, and the Sumerian goddess Tiamat was a sea-serpent and Great Waters goddess. The Greek Mother of all things was the serpent Eurynome, who laid the world-egg. The dragon was also regarded as a manifestation of the psyche in which the real and the imaginary are blurred and are, as in nature, only different aspects of life.
…The first church on the Tor was probably of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and was dedicated to St Michael – a dedication which was characteristic of such a hill-top site. St Michael, apart from being the ruler of archangels according to Christian tradition, was also the dragon-slayer and the personal adversary of Satan. Early Christianity believed the gods of the old religion to be fallen angels or demons. The Christian church seems to have had a definite policy of building churches dedicated to St Michael on the old religious sites and sacred mounds. Since the Tor and its spiral maze represented the dragon, a symbol of the Primal Mother or Earth Spirit in pagan times, the building of a church dedicated to the dragon-slayer was obviously meant to act as a powerful deterrent to any kind of pagan celebration.”
My research into angels and dragons has been quite a revelation and given me a whole new outlook on them. I still view them with awe and wonder, but it’s combined with greater knowledge and a desire to know more…
My next blog post – Glastonbury Experience July 2017, St Michael pilgrimage path – follows soon
Thanks for joining me on my creative journey,
Sam Rowena, jewellery artist x