Is the Angel of Portugal Actually Saint Michael the Archangel?
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you,” the angel prayed. “I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”
The “5 October 1910 Revolution,” as it was known, overthrew the Portuguese monarchy and instituted the Portuguese First Republic.
The Catholic monarchy was established by King Alfonso I Henriques of Portugal as far back as 1139. Over the next eight centuries, Portuguese Catholicism quietly but firmly rooted itself as the country’s anchor. Those in charge of the Portuguese First Republic, anti-clerical and opposed to Catholicism’s ties with the monarchy, had difficulty in shaking off the faith of the overwhelming majority of Portuguese who identified as Catholic. This included the faith of those in Fatima, location of the great apparitions granted to three peasant children amid not only the rule of the Portuguese First Republic, but also World War I.
We know from the memoirs of Sister Lúcia — her full name was Lúcia dos Santos — that her first visionary experience was not of the Blessed Mother, but of a statue-like, gleaming young man. In the spring of 1916, Lúcia was playing a game with pebbles while tending sheep with her younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Martos. All three encountered an appearance of a young man. “It is in the middle of an olive grove that belongs to my godfather, Anastacio,” Sister Lúcia relates in her memoirs. She continues:
We had only been at it a few moments when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day. And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.’ He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say: ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.’
In a second appearance in the summer of 1916, the angel identifies himself as “the angel of Portugal.” A third and final appearance, in fall 1916, a full year before the appearance of Our Lady at the Cova da Iria, included an extraordinary moment where the angel administers the Eucharist to the children, the Host bleeding into the chalice. “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God,” the angel implored.
Who is the angel of Portugal? How powerful this angel must be to offer Christ in such a mystical way to the three privileged children!
Angel of Portugal
To identify this angel, let us return to the founding of the Kingdom of Portugal, with King Alfonso I. This future first king was born in Guimarães in northern Portugal around 1109. Guimarães Castle, an imposing Romanesque structure built in the 10th century, contained a small chapel. It is widely believed Alfonso was baptized here. The chapel’s name is Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo — the Church of Saint Michael do Castelo. An enduring tradition among the monarchs of Portugal is that every royal palace thereafter was dedicated to Saint Michael.
The battle against the Moors that gave Alfonso the capability to declare himself king of Portugal, the Battle of Ourique, is preserved in Portuguese tradition as one in which Christ and the Guardian Angel of Portugal, along with other heavenly hosts, appeared to Aflonso. Eight years later, Alfonso Henriques and 250 Kingdom of Portugal knights conquered Santarem from the Moors on March 15, 1147, 50 kilometers south of Fatima. The popular Portuguese story details an eclipse of the sun in Santarem, out of which emerged the winged Saint Michael the Archangel.
That same year, under the authorization of King Alfonso, a dynastic order was established in Portugal in gratitude for the conquest. Its name was the Order of Saint Michael of the Wing, named after that miraculous apparition in the sky during the taking of Santarem. It was recognized by Pope Alexander III in 1171 and is still active today.
In 1504, Pope Julius II approved King Manuel I’s request for a feast day dedicated to the Custodian Angel of the Kingdom of Portugal. The feast day was set for June 10, known today as Portugal Day. Three days after the Feast of the Custodian Angel on June 13, 1917, the Blessed Mother appeared to Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta for the second time. “I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day,” she instructed. “And after each one of the mysteries, my children, I want you to pray in this way: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.’”
Also at that visit, Our Lady assured Lúcia, “I will be with you always, and my Immaculate Heart will be your comfort and the way which will lead you to God.” With this prayer, particularly the exhortation to “lead all souls into heaven,” Saint Michael is here invoked, as guide of the deceased towards the light of God’s face.
Though unnamed as specifically Saint Michael himself, as we have seen the Angel of Peace, Guardian Angel of Portugal, provided the Body of Christ and Precious Blood to Lúcia, Jacinta, and Francisco in his final appearance before the 1917 apparitions. Could this also be a veiled reference to Saint Michael as loyal subject to the Eucharistic Lord?
Saint Michael so venerates the Eucharist he is known as the Guardian of the Blessed Sacrament. For instance, Saint Gerard Majella (1726-1755), the patron saint for expectant mothers, was visited by Saint Michael and given his First Holy Communion at the age of seven. It is therefore not out of the realm of possibility that this Angel of Peace, preparing three children for the most remarkable encounter with the apparition of the Blessed Virgin — who would grant the children insights into glimpses of hell, foretell coming war, and urge the conversion of Russia (which that very year banished the Christian House of Romanov) — was also none other than Saint Michael the Archangel.
Additionally, the image of the flaming sword from the July 13, 1917 apparition inescapably evokes the revolving flaming sword guarding the entrance to Eden: “He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life” (cf. Gen. 3:24). In Book Eleven of John Milton’s epic poem in blank verse, Paradise Lost (1667), it is Saint Michael who leads a troop of cherubim from heaven to the Garden to cast out Adam and Eve and blockade Eden with the fiery sword (11.203-207).
An Angel of Peace in a time of war, asserting his identity as Portugal’s protector, guardian of the Eucharist, and chaperone of the souls upon death. Instead of appearing to three illiterate peasant children, two of whom would die less than two years after the 1917 apparitions, why would not Saint Michael, that is, the angel of peace, interfere directly with the raging Great War then underway, inspiring troops in the same way as Alfonso I and his armies were motivated by sights of the archangel?
In many ways, the Europe of 1916-1917 was an alien world to the Europe of the 12th century. Civil leaders who asserted power by toppling monarchies were suspicious of religion, and vehemently opposed to any mingling of Church and State. Instead such access fell to the little ones, not emperors or kings. Children were thus chosen as recipients of divine graces and messages, from Bernadette of Lourdes to Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta. That the Fatima apparitions occurred during the turbulence of World War I is not without coincidence. The Angel of Peace comes to three children in time of war just as he appeared throughout Portugal’s history. The pope during the Great War, Benedict XVI, who vigorously sought a way to negotiate peace among the warring nations, earns the name the Pope of Peace. The angel holding the flaming sword — symbolizing, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger taught in his theological commentary on the third secret of Fatima, judgment pending over the world — appears frightening and foreboding in the July 13, 1917 apparition at the Cova da Iria.
And rightly so. But the angel is also loyally on the side of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who promised to the children whose messages continue to captivate and transform those who fall in love with the story of Fatima, that it in the end, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”