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St Michael’s Day in the Scottish Highlands

St Michael vanquishing the devil
St Michael Vanquishing Satan

Since St Michael’s Day is coming soon, 29 September, I thought it might be appropriate to write something about his feast day. Saint Michael the Archangel was the leader of all angels of God, often portrayed fighting a dragon or the Devil with the evil one on the losing side. Or he is represented riding a white horse and carrying a three-pronged spear in his right hand and a three-cornered shield in his left. 

St Michael the Archangel

Many Christians believe St Michael takes those who died without mortal sin to heaven. In the High Middle Ages, Christians thought he was the saint who saved them from purgatory. If you died guilty of mortal sins, to hell you would go. If you died with a load of lesser sins, you might go to purgatory to serve your ‘sentence’. But the clergy taught that prayer reduced your time there. Kings, nobles, wealthy merchants established monasteries with clergy galore to pray to St Michael to ‘spring’ them from this celestial prison. Today in many countries, he is the patron saint of the military, police and seafarers. 

St Michael in Celtic Countries

A central fire used for heat and cooking
The Teallach, the Central Fire for Heating & Cooking

Three favourite saints of Gaelic Scotland (the Highlands) are St Brigid, St Columba and St Michael. In Gaelic Scotland and Ireland, St Michael was the patron saint of the sea, travelling and horses. Gaels remember Là Fhèill Mìcheil, St Michael’s Day, as the best holiday of the year with plenty of food, sports, and lots of singing and dancing.

Every year, on Carrot Sunday, Dòmhnach Curran, the Sunday before St Michael’s Day, women went to the fields near their village to collect carrots. As was usual, they sang as they dug out the carrots to add to the feast. They also made the Sruthan Mhìcheil, the St Michael’s Day cake with grains grown locally, barley, oats and rye in equal amounts. Occasionally, berries, fruits or honey were added. The sruthan was prepared on                  St Michael’s Eve and taken to the priest for a blessing the following day. The cakes could be named for absent or deceased family and friends and then given to the poor.

Pronunciation: Sruthan stroo-un

Michael was called the brian Mìcheil, that is, the ‘god Michael’. The god Michael, you say? But he’s not a god. He’s an archangel and a saint. How do you explain that? Brian is an ancient word for king in Gaelic, not used in the modern language at all. Rìgh is the word today, but brenin is the Welsh word for king, a cognate of brian. So brian is a type of king, a king of angels. 

The Brian Mìcheil in Song 

Bu tu gaisgeach na misnich
Dol air astar na fiosachd
Is tu nach siubhladh air criplich
Ghabh thu steud briain Micheil
E gun chabstar na shliopan
Thu mharcachd air iteig
Leum thu thairis air fiosrachadh Naduir.
 You were the courageous warrior 
Going on the journey of prophecy,
You did not travel on a broken-down animal,
You took the stallion suitable for the god Michael,
He was without bit in his mouth,
You rode him as he flew
You increased the knowledge of Nature.

As patron saint of the sea, St Michael had teampaill, temples, really churches dedicated to him on hills near the coasts or rivers wherever Celts lived. In Scotland, St Michael has been the patron saint of the burghs of Linlithgow and Dumfries since his churches were built in the 12th century and 14th centuries. In the Uists of the Western Isles, Gaels who venerated St Michael built teampuill. The most spectacular churches dedicated to the saint were built on a hill on Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Brittany and another on Mount St Michael in Cornwall, islands north and south of each other across the English Channel. 

A Recipe for Sruthan

An Sruthan a type of biscuit or scone baked for St Michael's Day
An Sruthan, the Biscuit or Cake Baked for St Michael’s Day

Scone 

24 oz self-rising Flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
6 oz butter or margarine
1/2 pint full cream (whole) milk ( \more if dry)                                                                       

Bake at 200C (400F) for approximately 22 mins

Topping 

4 large eggs
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tin treacle (molasses) 
small cup cream milk
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 

1 lb sieved, self-raising flour 
2 tablespoons cooking oil 

Break eggs into a bowl, add sugar, mix with mixer till frothy, add treacle small cup milk mix again for a few minutes. 

Add baking powder and flour (might need a wee bit more flour if too runny). Now add cooking oil.
Bake the bottom first.                                                                                                           Turn scone over when baked 
Reduce temp again in the last 5 mins on the second side of topping.                                       Should take 15 mins on the first side, 20 mins on the second side. 

Note: Treacle tins are 11 oz or 16 oz. A cup is 8 oz, and a small cup might be 6 oz. Not sure which is meant. You have to experiment!

This recipe for sruthan is based on the one from the Facebook page of the Uibhist a Deas/South Uist Appreciation Society

https://www.facebook.com/groups/UibhistSUAS/posts/10155408471992359

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