The Trouble with Angels
San Miguel: Faith Is Culture
By Joseph Toone
While I was still in diapers my then teen-age sisters rushed to the drive-in theater to see The Trouble with Angels, Hayley Mills’ latest comedy about two girls in an all-girls’ Catholic school run by nuns. Oddly, the cast included actresses that went on to further success playing nuns in the Sister Act movies, The Sound of Music and TV’s The Flying Nun. Plus it featured the witty and literate stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee.
Angels themselves are a source of endless troubling speculation throughout history. Here in San Miguel, angels are personified and relatable people rather than theological concepts that lead to pointless debates on just how many can fit on the head of a pin.
Take Seraphim, for example; a common San Miguel name. Seraphim are angels of the highest order and portrayed in art as no longer needing bodies. Instead they are simply heads with wings. If you walk along the side of the Oratorio church and look above the door’s arch, you’ll find no ordinary Seraphim. Since the Oratorio’s location has long been the site of indigenous people, these Seraphim have distinctly indigenous features.
Then there are the Archangels, the first order of angels that appear in human form. They are named Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. My dance student, Maria de los Ángeles, named her three boys after the archangels.
On St. Michael’s feast day in September he battles Satan, a fallen cherub, across the jardín with fireworks at dawn. It is a loud and long battle unlike any other festival in San Miguel, both spiritual and somewhat scary to witness.
Afterwards the statue of St. Michael leaves the Parroquia and is carried around town to visit other churches in the city for eight days. The eighth day features grand, even by San Miguel standards, fireworks and daylong indigenous dance performances.
Archangels are different from other angels; they never lived a human life. Consequently, though they are men, they are without the corresponding boy bits. As such, you’ll find images of St. Michael as a strong, yet effeminate man, sort of a cross between a Vegas show girl and a pre-surgery Bruce Jenner. Often in parades St. Michael is portrayed by teenaged girls.
Also, since St. Michael the Archangel never lived, he has no descendants. As such, there is no family here on Earth to call him back for a visit on “Day of the Dead.” Consequently, on the day following “Day of the Dead” the image of St. Michael is moved next to the central cross in churches to compensate for his being alone on that day.
He is also the Angel of Death, weighing souls in his perfectly balanced scales (hence the saint is often depicted holding scales).
Death, battles, winged heads…where angels go, trouble follows. This was also the name of the late 1960s film sequel starring Susan St. James that my sisters also enjoyed.
As the number-one-rated local tour guide on culture by TripAdvisor, I provide tours Thursday and Friday at 9am from the Oratorio church. To learn more about faith and culture in San Miguel, visit CatholicSMA.com; it benefits children’s library and art programs.