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02 November 2006


MQ Publications £14.99 (1-84072-680-6)

WHEN schoolchildren visit the parish church, we ask them to count the angels they find in glass, mosaic, wood, and stone. Margaret Barker shows just how angels come in all sorts of shapes and guises in this prettily presented book.

She begins her survey by looking at the nine orders of angels, the role of archangels as ruling angels, and the part angels play in liturgy, beyond singing the Sanctus. She then turns to the fallen angels so beloved of Milton and Philip Pullman, and examines the place of angels in the Hebrew scriptures, the New Testament, and the "Lost Bible".

Christian and other perspectives are brought to bear in the author’s interviews: Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis explains that Jews see angels as rivals of humanity, but that we have the upper hand, be-ing made in God’s image; while Bishop Geoffrey Rowell has found 327 churches dedicated to St Michael and All Angels in England and Wales. A Mormon professor gives an account of the meetings that Joseph Smith (1805-44) claimed to have had with John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, as well as Moses and Ezekiel, as tangible beings. We also hear from the Orthodox perspective, and from a Swedenborgian.

These short sound-bites are interspersed with quotations from the Qur’an and writers including Dante, Gertrude Hall, Pope John XXIII, and Newburgh Hamilton.

It is, however, the lavish illustrations that will sell this little book. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1974) may be no match for the angels in a bas-relief by Pierre-Jean David D’Angers, but they equally show their age. Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North is here, as is Titian’s Raphael and Tobias from the Accademia in Venice. The Tiepolo Sarah and the Angel (1726-28) from the Archbishop’s Palace in Udine is perhaps the most provocative image in the book; little wonder the old crone laughs at the door when an angel pulls up his tunic.

The Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield is Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath.

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