Between Heaven and Earth

Between Heaven and Earth

Maison Saint-Gabriel

In almost all religions, spirits intercede with the celestial powers on behalf of humans to announce and implement divine wishes and help those who request assistance. In western culture, these pure and perfect spirits are called “angels” and they are generally winged.

The universe of the angels is relatively complex and codified. The kabbalah and the treatise Celestial Hierarchy, written in the Sixth century by the Syrian monk Dionysius the Areopagite, are classical references about the organization of the family of angels, which includes, among others, the guardian angels, who serve as the personal protectors of all believers.

With this series of chronicles, we invite you to take part in an overview of the various aspects of angelic devotion, through its material and immaterial expressions. Toponymy, symbolic meaning and pious images – we will see that angels, who are anchored in time and space, are part of daily life and the religious heritage that has taken firm root since New France.

Click on a title to access an episode or to close the tab.

First episode
Saints in the streets...
Saints in the streets...

Photo: © Municipalité de Ange-Gardien (Montérégie)

During the time of New France, missionaries moved about to temporary sites, such as the chapel in the fort and the seigneur’s home, to serve the religious needs of the newly settled colonists. Following this, they started to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials and that’s how the parishes were gradually formed.

The creation of the apostolic vicariate of New France, in 1658, marked the beginning of the official organization of the Church in the territory. As the population grew, numerous parishes were erected by canon law which gave rise to the religious toponymy that characterizes Quebec.

These names designate churches, parishes, schools, streets and villages and refer to the various devotions of the Roman Catholic faith: the members of Jesus’ family (St. Anne, St. Joseph); the apostles (St. Peter, St. Paul); the martyrs (St. Stephen, St. Lawrence); the evangelists (St. John, St. Luke); the mysteries of the faith (the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption); the angels, etc.

The devotion of the angels, which was present in the Jewish religion, became very popular among Roman Catholics with the dissemination of the Roman catechism, which was published in 1566. The guardian angels, the personal protectors of all believers, and three archangels (St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael), assumed an important place in religious iconography and prayer. As a result, places of worship and parishes adopted their names.

In Montreal, the names of the earliest parishes refer to the Holy Family, with the exception of the third, which was consecrated to the Holy Angels, indicating just how important this devotion was: Notre-Dame-de-Montréal (1678); Enfant-Jésus-de-Pointe-aux-Trembles (1674); Saints-Anges-de-Lachine (1676); Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rivière-des-Prairies (1687); Sainte-Anne-du-Bout-de-l’île (1703); Saint-Joachim-de-la-Pointe-Claire (1713), etc.

Elsewhere in the colony, several parishes were also founded and placed under the holy patronage of the angels: L’Ange-Gardien (Beaupré seigneurie, 1666); Saint-Michel (seigneuries of La Durantaye, 1698, Yamaska, 1727, and île Percée, 1776); Saint-Raphaël-Archange (Île-Bizard, 1844); Ange-Gardien (Rouville, 1851), etc.

In terms of territory, the names of some of these parishes correspond to current municipalities and recall the times of the pioneers and their descendents, when the Roman Catholic religion was at the heart of daily life, both public and private.

While the angels’ names may be familiar, do we really know what they mean? We invite you to come back on March 16, 2010.

  • DESLANDRES, Dominique, John A. Dickinson et Ollivier Hubert, Les Sulpiciens de Montréal: une histoire de pouvoir et de discrétion, 1657-2007, [Montréal], Fides, 2007, 670 p.
  • ROBERT, Jean-Claude, Atlas historique de Montréal, [Montréal], Libre Expression, 1994, 167 p.

Second episode
Good messengers
Good messengers

Saint Michel Archange terrassant le dragon
Sculpteur inconnu, vers 1919
Photo: Église Saints-Anges Gardiens de Lachine
Source: Arrondissement de Lachine

Since the very beginning of time, man has been inspired by the grandeur and the beauty of the sky. As early as the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, 5,000 years before Jesus Christ, people believed that God lived in the “highest heavens”, namely the “seventh heaven”. The following generations created the foundations of what would become the Judeo-Christian tradition, recognizing the angel as the intermediary that united man with “God on high”.

For believers, angels belong to the sacred world and they are able to intervene in the lives of men. The texts of the Bible relate the appearances of three angels that are considered superior in the celestial hierarchy. The first was when the Archangel Raphael appeared to Tobias, and became his guardian angel; the second occurred when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and announced the birth of Jesus to her; and the third took place when the Archangel Michael appeared to John the Evangelist, who saw him fighting the dragon and the forces of evil.

These inspiring and exemplary scenes present the angels on missions, spreading a message of hope, trust and courage – strengths that grow out of faith. Represented by several artists, in paintings as well as sculptures, these traditional themes of art history are the subjects of works of art intended both to decorate churches and teach Christian values to the faithful.

Both “saints” and “winged”, these angels stand out from one another as a result of the different iconographic attributesassigned to them. Raphael is represented with a pilgrim’s staff and a fish, since he accompanies and protects travelers and proposed fish as a remedy for healing Tobias’ father. Gabriel is generally accompanied by a lily, a symbol of the Virgin’s purity, and a scepter, symbol of royalty, since he announced the designation of Mary as the mother of Jesus, son of God. Michael is usually portrayed with a lance or a sword to symbolize his battle for justice and good.

In religious artistic production, St. Gabriel, St. Michael and St. Raphael are codified in their roles as messenger, warrior and protector. In texts, the protective or guardian angels are the oldest since, according to the kabbalah, three guardian angels are assigned to each human being and the appearance of the Archangel Raphael is described in the Old Testament. Even today, the guardian angels are still the most popular when it comes to images and knick-knacks...

We invite you to return on March 30.

  • MELVILLE, Francis, Le petit guide des Anges, [Montréal], Hurtubise, 2002, 128 p.

Third episode
The Guardian Angel
The Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel
Illustration et médaille

“Dear angel, in His goodness, God gave you to me to guide, protect and enlighten me, and to bring me back to the right way when I go astray.”

“Grant me to sing with thanksgiving and fervour to my Creator and God, and to thee my good Angel Guardian: O my deliverer, rescue me from foes that trouble me.”

The practice of praying to the guardian angels, traditionally taught in early childhood in all families, has virtually disappeared nowadays. Yet, the belief that the guardian angel brings comfort and hope is still quite tangible. Take, for example, the song lyrics “Guardian angels around my bed” or the numerous lucky charms which, redesigned in keeping with current trends, are available on the market.

From the oldest medals struck with the effigy of a guardian angel to the latest Internet sites specializing in this topic, the figure of the angel has travelled around the world several times. This “timeless” devotion, the source of endless, unconditional love, is offered to each newborn who receives the protection of a guardian angel. The angel’s mission is to watch over the infant from the time of his birth until his death.

A popular activity, this recourse to the angels for protection, success, luck, courage, strength and health has left traces in both our material culture and our immaterial heritage. The French saying, “le péché fait fuir les bons anges” (sin drives the good angels away) is a reminder that children were taught that, since the guardian angel knew their souls better than anyone, he would take them to heaven for eternal life. This angel, who protected and watched over them, could make them “well-behaved” and “better”. Numerous images made in Épinal have contributed to instruction concerning the guardian angel.

Even today, the angel is more than a symbol. Angels respond to the need people feel to be connected to something bigger than themselves. The angel evokes love and inspires the possibility of living in trust and fidelity. A synonym for goodness, greatness and hope, the angel provides a spiritual presence that, in the face of life’s difficulties, makes acceptance and grief acceptable. Traditionally, the angel is also a saviour, a being that we thank with astonishment and gratitude for protecting us from serious accidents or saving us from earthquakes.

While everyone has seen the image of an angel at one time during their lives, few can say that they have been blessed by their angel and fewer still can state that they have seen one… But, when you think about it, aren’t the most beautiful things experienced deep within ourselves?

  • Guillmain, Monica, Apprenez à communiquer avec votre ange gardien, [Boulogne] Axiome Éditions, 1999.
  • MANEVY, Anne, L'Ange gardien. Enjeux et évolution d'une dévotion, [Paris], Les Éditions du Cerf, 2008, 160 p.


Épinal is a city located in the Vosges department in France. Starting at the end of the 18th century, this city became a popular centre of images. A wide variety of stamps are produced there, particularly on religious, historical or romantic themes. The pedagogical approach that prevails with respect to these images has contributed, over time, to the attribution of a figurative meaning to the French expression “image d'Épinal” (image from Épinal), referring to a naïve manner of only showing the good side of things.
Iconographic attributes are signs (objects, elements of nature or attitudes) that serve to decode meaning or identify personalities in works of art.
St. Michael fought the dragon in heaven and this scene is described by John the Evangelist in Chapter 12 in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Vanquished, the dragon, which always stands for evil, is thrown to the Earth where it represents the sources of seduction for man. Following the angel’s example, man should fight evil on Earth.
Described in the New Testament, the scene of the Annunciation is a key moment in the Roman Catholic religion since it describes the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to inform her that she would be the mother of Jesus, son of God.
The Book of Tobit, in the Old Testament, relates the story of a long and perilous trip that has a happy ending after Tobias meets a man who offers to guide him. With the guide, Tobias survives all of the trials and, at the end of his voyage, he restores his father’s sight, becomes wealthy and gets married. When he wants to reward his guide by offering him half of his wealth, the guide reveals himself to be the Archangel Raphael, appointed by God to note Tobias’ good actions and reward him. The angel returns to heaven after advising Tobias and his father to continue to pray and do good to those around them.
Homage rendered to an individual or a sacred symbol during religious fervour.
Erected by canon law
Action by which, in keeping with the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, the bishop creates a religious institution on a given territory.
Apostolic vicariate
Ecclesiastical territory in the process of Christianization founded in order to erect a diocese. Pope Alexandre VII appointed François de Laval to serve as apostolic vicar and he later became bishop when the diocese was created by Clement X in 1674.
Celestial Hierarchy
There are nine angelic choirs and three triads. The first triad includes the angels closest to God (Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones); the second includes the middle angels (Dominions, Virtues, Powers); and the third triad includes the angels closest to human beings (Principalities, Archangels, Angels).
Kabbalah is a Hebrew word that means “tradition” and comes from “kabbel”, which means “receiving”. The Kabbalah is a Jewish mystic tradition that refers to the oral tradition received by Moses on Mount Sinai (the ten commandments). According to tradition, God taught the kabbalah to the angels who in turn taught it to men. Its doctrine includes a study of angels (72), defined as Divine ministers assisted by the guardian angels.