On April 8, 2023, we officially opened a new archaeological and travel project, which is related both on the website and on the newly creted YouTube Channel. Its content is also posted on social media. Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok inform and report on current, past and future activities in the field of our project through posts, stories, and rolls.

The project mainly deals with subjects in which I specialize as an archaeologist, a religious studies scholar and art historian. Therefore, these subject matters are related to early Christianity, especially studied in terms of relations between the Middle East, Africa, and the British Isles, in the context of Judeo-Christian theology, beliefs, and religious art. We focus here on an iconographic and iconological context encoded in the monuments of Insular art from the time of the emergence of Christianity on the islands until the Synod of Cashel in the twelfth century, when the Roman Catholic Church took over the control over the Celtic Church, having been founded in present-day Ireland and Scotland, with its ideology spread more or less beyond.

Main characters of our accounts given in the project are particularly heavenly messengers. In addition to archangels of the highest rank, typical of our culture, who have been commonly accepted by the Church in Rome, with Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael, we will learn about various names of other archangels, whose invocation was forbidden by the same Church in the eighth century. Not without reason. Since the fourth century on, the cult of archangels and angels had reached its highest peak and slowly slipped out of the control of the Church patriarchs. Its forms often turned into repeating magical rituals and wearing amulets containing names that did not necessarily invoke good forces …

Let’s travel with us on roads of Christianity. We are guided by archangels … Copyright©Archaeotravel.

In the Eastern tradition, the cult of seven archangels has greatly been preserved. It has been cultivated and celebrated since the beginning of Christianity in the five Orthodox Oriental Churches, including Christian Egypt and Ethiopia. The worship of angels was especially disseminated by the current apocryphal literature, which had separated itself from the Biblical Canon, especially since the fourth century onwards. When the angelic tradition reached the British Isles, the dogma of the Catholic Church was not yet firmly established and embedded in the Latin culture of Western Europe. Prayers to God through His angelic messengers contained not only invocations typical of Christianity but inseparably coexisted with Judaic, pagan, and heretical religious currents, whose echoes constantly penetrated litanies, loricas and rituals, particularly present in the Insular tradition. They were extremely popular among lay people who used and even overused such an angelic supernatural assistance on a daily basis during their earthly existence, which was constantly exposed to the attacks of multiple evil spirits. The latter were manifested in diseases, crop failures and disasters. Different angels of God were responsible for separate tasks, including obtaining a desired love, fighting back an enemy or guiding pilgrims on their long and dangerous journey. Cooperation with supernatural powers was even more effective when they had a name. Such angelic names had multiplied throughout centuries and there are recorded in the number of many more than just seven. Thus, in different traditions, the names of traditional seven archangels may differ. Some names, although slightly altered, actually belong to the same archangel, but constant translating a given name from one language to the other, both orally and in writing, made it greatly being transformed and so corrupted.

However, the angels were not offended and continued to come, called by people’s invocations …

In Eastern – African and Insular Christian traditions canonical and non-canonical archangels are richly described in writing by means of multiple legends and hagiographies. Their pictorial representations, in turn,  have been frequently painted and carved throughout centuries. Some of them remain now the exemplum of ancient Christian devotion. Due to the fact that the Oriental and Celtic Churches retained an essential independence from the Catholic Church – the Non-Chalcedonian Churches since the fifth century till now and the Celtic Church till the Synod of Whitby in the seventh century – their Christian lore is outstanding and unique on its own. It speaks out through illuminated manuscripts, carved and painted biblical, apocryphal and hagiographic scenes, which fully illustrate Judeo-Christian orthopraxy and orthodoxy (belief and practice) with a pinch of ancient paganism.

Our journey will guide you to more or less known monuments of Christianity, on the British Isles, Continental Europe, in the Middle East and Africa, in order to show you how rich the Christian faith can be and how many diverse faces it can show to pilgrims looking for a protection by their guardian angels.

Featured image: Two angels on the CHI-RHO page 34r in the Book of Kells. The scene of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace with the Guardian Angel on the High Cross of Moone, Co. Kildare. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Joanna Pyrgies