Esther vs. Michael the Archangel

Today in Saintly Sixteen action, Esther squares off against Michael the Archangel. To make it this far, Esther made it past Lazarus while Michael got by Anna the Prophet. Will St. Michael or one of the "all angels" prevail?

Yesterday, Anna Alexander made it past Edith Cavell 65% to 35% to advance to the Elate Eight. She'll face the winner of Eglantyne Jebb vs. Catherine Winkworth. By the way, our Bracket Czar Adam Thomas delved into bracket history and has ruled that Monday's battle that saw Maria Skobtsova trounce Quiteria 91% to 9% was the most lopsided victory ever in the modern era of Lent Madness. The previous record was from 2014 when Basil defeated Antony of Egypt 87% to 13%.

Oh, and did you miss the Tuesday edition of Monday Madness? If you can stand the planets being out of alignment, watch it here.


EstherEsther, or Hadassah in Hebrew, was the secretly-Jewish queen of Persia who saved her people from genocide through her prayer, bravery, and wits, as recorded in the Bible.

She is celebrated in the church on July 1 in the Eastern Orthodox church. Note that the Orthodox church does not have the same requirements for sainthood as you might be used to: she joins luminaries like Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob on the calendar. Also, recall that in the years before formalized bureaucratic processes, saints were not made by the Church; they arose, grassroots-style, from the people.

In Esther’s case, she became very popular with a particular group of people in Spain, born from one of the worst sins the Church committed. During the Spanish Inquisition of the late 15th century, the Jews of Spain were given a life-or-death choice: convert to Christianity, flee the country, or die. For the Jews who chose conversion, such a capitulation did not reward them with an easy life thereafter: they were ridiculed and shunned by their former community, and denigrated and distrusted by their new co-religionists. The word for this group of converted Jews in Spanish among the Spanish Catholics was ‘marranos’ or ‘pigs’ which should give you an idea of how they were received. In the face of such hatred from all corners, this beleaguered group found a way to hold on to their identity in secret.

Because they were not able to celebrate Purim or Passover, or any of the traditional festivals, the Jewish converts became much enamored with a Saint Esther, and threw themselves into celebrating her festival in the spring—around the same time as Purim and Passover would normally fall. St. Esther’s festival could pass as acceptable, because after all—was she not in the Christian Bible? Was she not a biblical heroine? Surely all good Catholics had heard of Saint Esther! Icons of her began to appear all around.

Many of the converted Jews fled to the New World, and seemed to have taken their love of Esther with them to Mexico and the American Southwest (although there is conflicting information on this). The retablo style of iconography soon grew to include Esther, and celebrations of her feast day sprang up in the small towns of New Mexico.

Esther’s story, of a woman who secretly clung to her faith in spite of all oppression, spoke to those who were experiencing the same sort of trials at the hands of the Church. Her sainthood then is both a rebuke of the Church’s sins, and a hope that people of faith may learn from her witness in the future.

-Megan Castellan

Michael the Archangel

MichaelThe Archangel Michael is not known for giving interviews, so quotes from the Archangel are rare (read: nonexistent).

Quirks, however, are plentiful, particularly those associated with the many monasteries, churches, and holy sites named in honor of St. Michael.

One particularly fascinating quirk is the legendary Sword of Michael, a straight line of monasteries and churches forming a spiritual path devoted to St. Michael in the form of Michael’s sword. The hilt of the Sword begins at Skellig Michael (meaning Michael’s Rock), a 6th century monastery off the coast of Ireland (or somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, if you’re a fan of the latest Star Wars movies).

The Sword of St. Michael continues through Saint Michael’s Mount (Cornwall, England); Mont Saint-Michel (Normandy, France); Sacra di San Michele (Turin, Italy); Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo (Mount Gargano, Italy); before coming to an end at Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery (Haifa, Israel), representing the tip of the sword. Legend holds this line symbolizes the sword that Michael used to send Lucifer and the other rebellious angels into hell.

Michael’s legendary fortress, Mont Saint-Michel off the Normandy coast, may be the most famous edifice built to honor the Archangel. Mont Saint-Michel began its life in the 8th century, when legend holds that Michael appeared to Aubert, bishop of Avranches, and instructed the bishop to build a church in the Archangel’s honor. The bishop ignored the Archangel’s request until Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with Michael’s angelic finger.

Needless to say, the bishop began the foundations of Mont Saint-Michel immediately.

Its English counterpart, located off the coast of Cornwall in a tidal area with similar characteristics, is Saint Michael’s Mount, also built in the 8th century and serving as a monastery until the early 11th century, when it passed into private ownership.

No legends tell of Michael burning holes to encourage the building of this edifice, although the island’s west side was long-known as a place local fisherman would row past before going out to sea, as Michael would appear and warn of any imminent danger that awaited them.

While not directly associated with Michael, the island is also known as the dwelling place of a giant who would steal cattle and children until a young man named Jack ventured to the Mount, dug a deep pit while the giant was sleeping and blew a loud horn to startle the giant awake. Raging to find the source of his disturbed sleep, the giant stormed out of his castle and fell into the deep pit, and the legend of Jack the Giant Killer was born.

-Laurie Brock

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Esther: Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther, by Rembrandt
Michael: Para Astro


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159 comments on “Esther vs. Michael the Archangel”

    1. I voted for Esther because she brought people to the Southwest and gave them a home

        1. Going with Michael, Bev! Have been to all 3 Michael's "Mounts", am in the parish of St Michael, and Michael is my nephew's name!

  1. I still think putting mortals against Archangels isn't very fair. I voted for Esther. I like the old 1950s movie Esther and the King when I was a kid an d there was no cable TV.

    1. But, what about the movie with John Travolta: Michael? It’s brilliant! Change your vote!

    2. Agreed. Michael is/was an angel, not a human. Thus I voted for Esther/Hadassah.

  2. I had to vote for Michael. He is the warrior angel who commands the army of the Lord. I have a son in Military Service. He is overseas right now. I ask for intercession from Michael to our Lord for protection, safety, and emotional support for my son and the others who are with him.

    It is ironic that I do this, I was never raised with asking the saints for assistance.

    1. May your son and his brothers and sisters in arms arrive safely back home to their loved ones. May the saints preserve him, them, and you. How delightful that you are finding novel resources for spiritual support. I am sure Michael is with you. He stands in the presence of God, and through him, so do you and your loved ones. Peace be with you.

  3. Esther for me this morning for her steadfast faith even if hidden and her courage in saving her people. I like the story that she became a guiding saint for those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. I just can't relate to an archangel (he's not human after all). I'm especially bothered by an angel who would demand a church be built to honor him and burning a hole in the bishop's skull when he refused. This hardly seems like angelic behavior.

  4. Who doesn't love a mighty angel? Yet, Esther's role in preserving her people has always touched me deeply. I love the "grass roots" people behind her iconic stature.

    1. Yes, thank you, Patricia. That is pretty much what I was thinking but couldn't articulate as well! 🙂

    2. I was born in a reformed Jewish family and became an Episcopalian in 2006, and so Esther's has to be my favorite. Carol Friendly

  5. Esther’s story may also be legend; but it’s beautiful, moving, and timely. Corporeality also gives her an edge, in my prosaic opinion.

  6. Went with Michael. Would be a harder choice if it was Mordecai (Esther's adviser/uncle) than Esther.

  7. It seems wrong to pit an archangel against a mere human. How can an archangel be a saint? I thought it was reserved for humanity, so Michael is disqualified and Esther gets my vote.

  8. Angels are a group unto themselves. Honored and appreciated. Saints work hard for their glory.

  9. Fans of 'Supernatural' should not be swayed by that depiction of Michael, who fulfills his role as messenger warrior . . . difficult matchup today mindful of Galatians (rendered in The Message) "we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original." Sticking with the original Michael....

  10. We are having a bathroom remodeled and this morning as I was getting ready to read of today’s Lent Madness battle, a gentleman arrived to install the floor. He introduced himself as Michael and is THE 4th Michael to work on this small project. I took it as a sign!

  11. I would think that being a human being was a non-negotiable condition of being a saint. Don't you?

    1. The word "saint" simply means "holy one". That would apply to angels as well as to humans.

  12. Angels and saints are different beings. Michael the Archangel should not be in this race.

  13. Mortals can be saints. Angels are of another realm, so should not even be in the running for the Golden Halo. "The Archangel Michael is not known for giving interviews, so quotes from the Archangel are rare (read: nonexistent)." I am voting for Ester:
    "..a woman who secretly clung to her faith in spite of all oppression, spoke to those who were experiencing the same sort of trials at the hands of the Church. Her sainthood then is both a rebuke of the Church’s sins, and a hope that people of faith may learn from her witness in the future."
    rather than
    "The Archangel Michael ...(read: nonexistent)."

  14. This is a really tough call for me, so I'm down to this: who can prevail against Peter in the next round? I'm going with Michael.

  15. A Queen & an angel - never considered either a saint, however, Esther's
    willingness to put herself at risk for her people gets my vote.
    (Although it was smart of her uncle, Mordecai to get her into that position,
    maybe he should be the saint of planning ahead. Put him on next year's list.)

  16. I voted for Esther because she risked her life and used her wits to defeat Haman and save her people. There are far too many Hamans around today, spreading hatred.

  17. Michael has some seriously entertaining legend. I voted for him, knowing he’s unlikely to win, even though I tend to be of the opinion that angels should be in their own category leaving sainthood to mortals.

  18. I live in New Mexico. In honor of some Catholic Hispanic friends who only recently learned they were descended from Jews, I vote for Esther.

    1. I was born and raised in New Mexico.
      "Oh, fair New Mexico!
      We love, we love
      You so..."

  19. As much as my inner child wants the big protecting angel to win, how can I vote for a divine being over a brave human being risking their life by "coming out" under dangerous circumstances to save the oppressed?

  20. Two women in my life that I cherished for their deep faith were named Esther so I was inclined to vote for Esther. Being paired against a non-mortal made it a clincher.

  21. My older daughter was Queen Esther in the Purim parade at her preschool, held in a Jewish community center. Had to go with Esther!

  22. I vote for Esther, a human being, whose beauty, courage, and wit, God-given traits, enabled her to bring about the saving of the lives of her people.

  23. Have to go with Esther. Her story intrigued me as a child, her bravery and ability to speak up for her people inspired me. I believe we need to emulate folks who speak up for the threatened, endangered through no fault of their own, but are simply not of the majority. Speaks courageously for our times. Personally, I am not impressed with an angel who needs or uses a sword for destruction.