Painted by Francesco Botticini (1446-1498),
Painted in 1470,
Tempera on Wood
Tempera on Panel Uffizi Museum, Florence
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, 'There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.' 'How do you know me?' said Nathanael. 'Before Philip came to call you,' said Jesus 'I saw you under the fig tree.' Nathanael answered, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.' Jesus replied, 'You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.' And then he added 'I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.'
Today we celebrate the feast of three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The word 'arch-angel' means 'high-ranking angel'--the same way that 'arch-bishop' means a high-ranking bishop for example. Saint Michael (to the left of our painting), won the battle over Satan when Satan confronted God. His name means 'Who is like God?'. The implicit answer is that of course nobody is like God, as he is the greatest there is. Raphael (in the middle) cured Tobit, the father of Tobias (whose hand he is holding) of his blindness and helped his family in their sufferings and misfortunes. Raphael's name means 'God heals', and we see him holding in his other hand a jar of the medicinal fish gall to cure old Tobit of his blindness. Tobias himself is holding a fish that he had caught during the journey which would help to rid his future wife of demons. Gabriel (on the right, holding a white lily) announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus. His name means 'God is my warrior'.
G.K. Chesterton wrote: 'Art is born when the temporary touches the eternal'. I think today's painting is a very good example of that. These three archangels were three special messengers who were sent to accomplish very specific tasks in very specific ways. Their eternal touched the temporal.
We pray that they may achieve our own very specific task that we are each called to do.