The archangel statues of the Church of I Gesuiti, Venice

Church of I Gesuiti

At the transept crossing the Church of I Gesuiti (Santa Maria Assunta), the statues of four archangels sculpted by Giuseppe Torretti (c.1660-1743) are enthroned within specially created niches. Whilst the archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael are well-known, the fourth – Sealtiel – is much less so. In the choir beyond, there are also statues of two other little-known archangels: Uriel and Baraquiel.

Michael (prince of the celestial militia), Gabriel (protector of travellers; his name means “God heals”), Raphael (celestial messenger; his name means “The Power of God”), Baraquiel, Sealtiel, Uriel and Oriphiel (or Jehudiel, absent here) are the seven angels of the Gnostic tradition and the Jewish Kabbalah. In the latter, the last four are named Samael, Zadkiel, Anael and Kassiel.

Only Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are actually named in the Bible, however, all seven archangels are mentioned in the Book of Tobit: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and go in before the glory of the Holy One” (Tobit, 12.15).

Judeo-Christian tradition also associates each of the archangels with one of the planets:

Sun – Michael

Mars – Samael (Baraquiel)

Jupiter – Zadkiel (Sealtiel)

Saturn – Kassiel (Oriphiel/Jehudiel)

Moon – Gabriel

Mercury – Raphael

Venus – Anael (Uriel)

Previously also called Sakiel, Sealtiel’s name means “the roof or head of God” in Hebrew. Hence he is the archangel that “contemplates” the Divinity. However he is also the angel that possesses the horn of plenty, and is therefore invoked here so that his intervention in the court of heavenly justice may supply the material needs of the Company of Jesus (the other name for the Jesuits).

Uriel (“Flame of God” in Hebrew) is identified as the keeper of the gates of the original Paradise (Eden); he carries a sword of flame. He is also the angel that will open the gates of Hell on Judgement Day (according to the Apocalypse). His presence here serves to protect the church – and, by extension, Venice – by separating Good from Evil, and Light from Darkness.

Baraquiel (“Blessing of God” in Hebrew) maintains mankind in a state of Grace. By keeping man on the right path and protecting him from the enemies of the Faith, he guarantees final beatitude after death. He is the archangel of divine goodness.

The Church of I Gesuiti is one of those places in Venice which receives comparatively few visitors, yet along with these beautiful statues, there is a remarkable sacristy with a stunning ceiling painted in wood and some breathtaking polychrome marble damasking in its interior.

Next time you are in Venice, make sure you pay this glorious church a visit – it really is a true gem of beauty.

 

(Adapted from Secret Venice by Thomas Jonglez & Paola Zoffoli)
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