4. Gold: Michaelmas, Phi Days and the Milky Way

Updated: Jul 22, 2020



10th-century gold and enamel Byzantine icon of St Michael, in the treasury of the St Mark's Basilica, Wikimedia Commons

We've looked at the links between the Mont Saint-Michel, Saint Michael's Mount and Stonehenge. How do these relate to the other places on the Michael alignment, such as Skellig Michael, Sacra di San Michele, Monte Sant' Angelo, and the others on the way to Israel? What about the English Michael alignment? What can we learn from the various orientations of these lines?


Skellig Michael


Another rock surrounded by sea, named after the archangel... yawn. Except, it's also another amazing place! The waiting list for tickets to get there is pretty long, especially after Luke Skywalker spent some time there.


But it's not just the physical similarity to the other two Michael places we've looked at so far that makes it special, nor the fact that it is roughly aligned to them, nor even its amazing bee-hive huts. All of these things put together, its remoteness, its starkness, its history have to be considered with the fact that it's the beginning of the famous Michael - Apollo - Artemis line that stretches from the most westerly part of Europe to the middle East, at Mount Carmel. And the distance between the Mont Saint-Michel and Skellig Michael is 454.95 miles. That's the distance between Saint Michael's Mount and the Mont Saint-Michel divided by ten and then squared. It's also the distance between the Mont-Saint Michel and Saint Michael's Mount plus 248.83 miles, which is 1/100th of the meridian circumference of the Earth (24,883.2 miles).


The view from Skellig Michael of Little Skellig, By mym, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=298417

The neighbouring island, Little Skellig, is home to thousands of puffins. You can just about see on the photo here the mainland in the distance behind it. There are plenty of other islands around here, Puffin Island, Scarriff, Deenish, Horse Island, some of these are just as dramatic looking, jagged, sharp, threatening even, like the heads of sea dinosaurs that have swum up for air. There was once an oratory and a church on Scarriff Island. So why is Skellig Michael the one that has been considered so special for centuries?

For one thing, it is the furthest to the westerly places in Europe, second only to the Blasket islands, 20 miles or so to the north, are slightly further west again. The next place after that is Newfoundland, almost 2,000 miles away. Being so remote, Skellig Michael could be the starting point (or the end) of a journey. I'm taking it as the starting point of the European Michael line.

The azimuth of the line linking this island to Saint Michael's Mount is 115.42 degrees. What is the significance of this? How exactly does it relate to the sun? Or to the moon? And is there a line with a similar azimuth to the English Michael line, crossing Ireland from Skellig?

I thought it best to start with trying to figure out the movements of the sun as seen from Skellig Michael, and I found a great website called www.sunearthtools.com. You put in the location and the date that you want and you can get the number of hours of daylight and the orientation of the rising and setting sun, amongst other things.

I wondered what date to pick first. I thought the most obvious would be to check the dates on which the feast of Saint Michael is celebrated, so 29th September, and in France, 8th May.


Skellig Michael


29 September Sunrise 05:39:03 Sunset 17:25:07 Azimuth sunrise 92.69° Azimuth Sunset 266.99°

Number of hours of daylight 11:46:04


8 May Sunrise 04:01:08 Sunset 19:17:18 Azimuth sunrise 60.57° Azimuth Sunset 299.73°

Number of hours of daylight 15:16:10


I wasn't really sure what to make of these figures, or what to do with them. So I decided to check to see on Google Earth what was 92.69° away from Skellig Michael, the line of the first point of sunrise on Michaelmas, 29th September.

I was very very surprised to find that it led straight to the Stonehenge area.



A Skellig Michael Michaelmas Line


Stonehenge


I just stared at the screen not knowing how to interpret this. The first moments of Michaelmas sunrise at Skellig Michael were linked with Stonehenge, all the way over in England? For some reason, it just seemed unlikely. And yet, why not? It seems clear to me now that people in the distant past were good astronomers and cartographers, the capability was there. And the will was there, plenty of structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Age are oriented to something or other in the night sky. And are not most churches, at least the ones built before the last century, aligned with the sunrise of the feast day of the saint they are supposed to be dedicated to? And aren't the Michael lines in England and Europe connected to the path of the sun, and directly linked to Stonehenge, as we've seen in earlier posts? It kind of made sense, but still, it was strange. Even with the connections I'd found between Stonehenge, the Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Michael's Mount, I hadn't expected this, perhaps I should have done.

The line I traced didn't actually go through the main part of Stonehenge, the famous ring of stones, but just under a mile to the north, between the Great Cursus and Durrington Walls. The line did go past or through some interesting shapes on the landscape, none of which I could identify, circular shapes, cigar shapes. I looked on the interactive map created by Historic England but none of the places I wanted to know about were labelled. (https://services.historicengland.org.uk/rrstonehenge/) I have marked them below with question marks.


The exact orientation of the line from Skellig to Stonehenge itself is 92.80° and the distance is 377.87 miles. From Skellig it runs through Kerry and Cork, through Kinsale before hitting the sea, then over the Cheddar Gorge, skirting a couple of very old churches on the way, such as St Mary's in Shrewton, St Mary's in Frome, St Andrew's Church in

Radstock, Holcombe, and St Andrew's in Compton Bishop. The line also passes close by the Giant's Grave Long Barrow in Southmead, Charmborough Hill Chambered Tomb, and Big Tree Long Barrow.


I wondered why the line between Skellig and Stonehenge wasn't more precise, why it didn't head for the henge itself. I drew the line from different parts of Skellig Michael, just to see if it made a difference, but it didn't much. But then I figured that the sunrise azimuth for the days before and after would have been way off the mark. If the intention of whoever designed this layout was to mark the Stonehenge - Skellig line exactly with this date, then actually the 29th September was the best you could do. The previous day, the 28th September, has a sunrise azimuth of 92.06, and the following day has an azimuth of 93.32 which are both way off. If you draw lines for both of these days, and measure the distance between them in the Stonehenge area, they are 8.3 miles apart. So each of these sunrise lines from Skellig, 28th, 29th and 30th September, projected all the way to Stonehenge is just over 4 miles apart from the next. So to have a sunrise line that is just under a mile off the main event in Stonehenge is probably as good as you can get.




What does this mean? Why the 29th September? Is it purely to mark the link between two already well established places? Already there are links between the positioning of Stonehenge with Lundy, the Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Michael's Mount. Now with Skellig too, there is a direct connection. Michaelmas is a famous religious feast day, it has been celebrated for centuries, though in recent decades perhaps less so.

Michaelmas is also known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (depending on the religion).

It's not just a day of religious importance, it's also an important day in the calendar as it's one of the quarter days: even though it's a week after the autumn equinox, it's Michaelmas rather than the equinox which marks the beginning of this new quarter of the year. It is also one of the quarter days of the financial and legal year, and until a few decades ago it also gave it's name to the autumn term in schools and universities.

There's a flower associated with Michaelmas: the Michaelmas daisy. It's worth noting because the flower is associated with coastal salty places, just like the mounds associated with Michael in North West Europe, and is named after the Greek word for star. I was wondering about a connection with stars when I glanced over to my left and noticed something very like the Michaelmas daisies (as they are known) I was reading about on my computer screen in a vase right next to me: a mix of sunflower, aster and eucalyptus leaves. How strange that I've had these flowers for almost a week now and I never thought to wonder what the purple ones were.

Strange too that they go so well with sunflowers, which, like the Michael mounds, are connected to the path of the sun.


It occurred to me I hadn't checked what lay on the azimuths for Michaelmas sunrises from the other Michael places. Nor from Stonehenge itself. So here they are below.


Saint Michael's Mount 29 September sunrise azimuth 92.61°


I traced a line on Google Earth from Saint Michael's Mount with this azimuth. Nothing much, The English Channel. A bit of Northern France, but nothing of note.

Then I checked the same thing for the Mont Saint-Michel.


Mont Saint-Michel 29 September sunrise azimuth 92.55°.


I traced a line along this azimuth. Also nothing. Just north of Chartres, but not much else that I could see.

So it seems, for now, the Michaelmas date applies specifically to Skellig Michael.

And Stonehenge?


Stonehenge 29 September sunrise azimuth 92.65°


I drew a line from Stonehenge in that direction, on Google Earth, which brought me less than half a mile south of the famous Grand-Place in Brussels, and just south also of the Cathedral, dedicated to none other than Saint Michael, and to Saint Gudula, the two patron saints of the city.


Brussels

The azimuth from Stonehenge to the Grand-Place is in fact 92.47° and to the cathedral 92.45°. Sunrise azimuths for the previous and following days are 92.03° and 93.27°, so in fact the Michaelmas sunrise azimuth from Stonehenge is in fact the best fit for Brussels.

How odd to find a connection between England and Brussels just weeks before Brexit. And it's also a link with Ireland, and line drawn from Ireland, a line connecting the most complicated aspects of the Brexit conundrum. It's the opposite of a border, it's a line that brings places together, but I don't suppose it could ever hold much sway in resolving the impasse that is Brexit (or as it should properly be called, 'UK-exit', as Northern Ireland is forced to leave the EU too, together with Britain - perhaps if people had called it UK-exit from the start, they might have given the Irish border more thought). You can't help but notice sunrise in Ireland points to England, or that sunrise in England points to Brussels, and just as Ireland sought to escape England, England seeks to escape Brussels.



Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels, Wikimedia commons

The distance in miles between the centre of Stonehenge and the cathedral is 270.64, and in feet you can measure exactly 1,429,000 - henge to cathedral. This is also close to 100 x (19.008 / 7), which is 271.542857. There are 19.008 / 7 feet in an Astronomical Megalithic Yard.

There's a public garden, a play area nearby, with paths in the shape of a cross and circle, and the distance to that from Stonehenge is exactly 270 miles, but it is entirely modern I think.

It's hard to make out from the pictures on Google Earth, and having never been, I didn't know that there was an island here, that, in fact, the original settlement of what was to become Brussels was on a small island in the river Senne. A chapel. And for a long time, just a chapel, before there was a town around it. And it seems this is apparently older then the first chapel on the Mont Saint-Michel, as the bishop of Avranches had his vision of the Archangel Michael, and from that the conviction that he must build a chapel, in the year 708. The chapel was first built on this island in Brussels in the year 580, by one of these awful Saint Martin of Tours types, who went around destroying pagan shrines and giving non-Christians a very hard time. Whether the chapel he built was in the place of one of these pagan shrines, I don't know.


Glass window of the Maes-chapel of the St. Michael and Gudula cathedral in Brussels, depicting St. Michael, by Viktorhauk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4617228

In both the Mont Saint-Michel and Brussels, it seems, megaliths were there first anyway, but they are long gone now, all that's left is traces of the people associated with megalithic culture. Perhaps there was once a dolmen on the Grand-Place. The two World Wars left the city relatively unscathed, but the worst of the destruction has been since the sixties, with famous landmarks absorbed by relentless building. I tried to see if I could find my bearings on an old map of Brussels from 1574, but it's very hard, it is a completely different city.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b550051392/f1.item.zoom

This next map is interesting as you can see the fortifications. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53099632h/f1.item.zoom

What both of these maps fail to show is any sign of Saint Michael, which makes you wonder if the city's connection with the archangel remained constant throughout the middle ages, or if someone at some point in the last few hundred years decided to revive the status of Saint Michael and put him on the map. On the second map, the now cathedral (it was formerly just a magnificent church) is referred to simply as 'Templum S. Gudula'. The websites, however, all say that the church was dedicated to both saints from the start.

The idea I've been following so far is that many places associated with Saint Michael were of pre-Christian importance, possibly at least as old as Stonehenge, and that somehow, Christianity, though destructive and violent towards anything and anyone not in keeping with its ideas, somehow managed to absorb many pre-Christian symbols and beliefs. But perhaps the fortunes of many of the deities and ideas accepted or reinterpreted by Christianity were mixed, sometimes in favour, at other times not. This might explain why a chapel originally dedicated to Saint Michael in Brussels became a church primarily known as Saint Gudula, before finally becoming the church, and then cathedral, of Saints Michael and Gudula. Perhaps the pilgrims needed to be told about the saint whose relics they might actually see, Saint Gudula, as opposed to an archangel'