It is reported that a couple of weeks ago, in Greece, an icon of St. Michael the Archangel began mysteriously to weep. This is a phenomenon that one sees from time to time in the Orthodox world. The local bishop is investigating to see if there is a natural reason for it in this case. Orthodox accept that it could be miraculous, though what it means, nobody can know for sure.

I’ve been thinking about St. Michael a lot lately because of my small obsession with the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. Father Dwight Longenecker tells me that there’s an interesting phenomenon of five ancient monasteries devoted to St. Michael the Archangel existing on a straight line from Jerusalem all the way to Ireland. Fr. Dwight has a map of what he calls the Michael Line here. Fr. Dwight writes:

So what is one to make of such esoterica? Well, I’m intrigued by it. I realize that some people can go off the deep end and become so fascinated by odd things that they become odd themselves (or perhaps they were odd already and so became intrigued by odd things) The experts in medieval cartography say medieval people couldn’t have come up with such a thing. Others point out that Christian worship sites were often situated on the sites of former pagan sites and there are some churches in France on hilltops dedicated to ‘St Michel de Mercure’ thus linking St Michael with the winged pagan god Mercury.

For me it remains a mystery simply proving that there are more things in the world than our techno scientific brains have accounted for, and that medieval people (and ancient people too) were smarter than we give them credit for–they were just smarter about different stuff–and that I prefer that kind of smart to the techno science smart of our day.

There is in England a related phenomenon: the St. Michael Ley Line. Frank Jacobs of the Strange Maps blog ran a piece on it once. Excerpt:

The St. Michael Alignment is arguably the most prominent and intriguing of the many ley lines that criss-cross Britain. It runs in a straight line between Land’s End, England’s southwestern extremity, and Hopton-on-Sea, on the Norfolk coast. Its name derives from the many sites devoted to St. Michael that it touches or skirts on its 350-mile course – and from its orientation: the direction of the sunrise on May 8th, when the Latin liturgy celebrates… the Apparition of St. Michael.

But is there something mystical to this, or just an example of imposing a pattern on meaningless data? Jacobs shows that a researcher constructed fake ley lines based on the appearance of Woolworth’s stores. He quotes others pointing out that the density of archaeological sites in Britain is such that you can draw a straight line just about anywhere, and find commonality among the places it passes through.

Could you do that for the Michael Line that Fr. Dwight talks about, though? If it were simply a matter of identifying religious sites devoted to St. Michael, I could see that. But monasteries — and monasteries that are ancient, built in a time when no one could have plotted such a straight line? Hmmm…