I grew up in a household which loved Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. My mother had played a part in the production in St. Louis as a child, twice it seems, in the Kiel Auditorium. She played a bird, in the forest scene with the animals, and a fairy or angel in another production.
The instrumental played when the fourteen angels come to guard Hansel and Gretel as they fall asleep in the forest was part of my mother’s repertoire of nursery songs.
But, it was not until today, that I realized the true meaning about the fourteen angels.
When my mother sang these words, I imagined angels, and when I sang these to my baby son, I imagined angels. But, the words historically apply to the Fourteen Holy Helpers, one of whom has a feast day tomorrow.
The words to the song are:
Fourteen angels watch do keep,
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding;
Two upon my right hand,
Two upon my left hand.
Two who warmly cover
Two who o’er me hover,
Two to whom ’tis given
To guide my steps to heaven.**
Heaven enters in my dreams;
Angels hover round me,
Whisp’ring they have found me;
Two are sweetly singing,
Two are garlands bringing,
Strewing me with roses
As my soul reposes.
God will not forsake me
When dawn at last will wake me.***
The original song or poem dates back much earlier than this German operetta, to the prayers of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of Fourteenth Century Germany. These holy saints were invoked against diseases and disasters.
The list is impressive, and includes St. Giles, who feast day it is tomorrow, September 1st.
- Acacius, helper over headaches and patron of soldiers
- Barbara, helper over sudden death and fevers and patron of armourers, architects, artillerymen, firemen, mathematicians, miners,prisoners
- Blaise, helper over sore throats and throat injuries, as well as pets and farm animals, builders, choking, veterinarians, infants,Maratea, Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, stonecutters, carvers, wool workers
- Catherine of Alexandria, helper over sudden death, unmarried girls, Aalsum;apologists; craftsmen who work with a wheel (potters, spinners);archivists; dying people;educators; girls; jurists; knifes sharpeners; lawyers; librarians; libraries; Balliol College; Massey College; maidens; mechanics; millers; milliners; hat-makers; nurses; philosophers; preachers; scholars; schoolchildren;scribes; secretaries; spinsters;stenographers; students;tanners; theologians; University of Oviedo; University of Paris; haberdashers; wheelwrights; Żejtun, Malta; Żurrieq, Malta; Pagbilao, Quezon, Philippines;Carcar City, Cebu, Philippines; Katerini, Greece
- Christopher, helper in travelling and against the plague, bachelors, transportation(drivers, sailors, etc.), storms, Brunswick, Saint Christopher’s Island (Saint Kitts), Island Rab, Vilnius, epilepsy, gardeners, holy death,toothache
- Cyriacus, helper over last minute temptations when one is dying, viticulture in the Electorate of the Palatinate; Saint-Cierges, Switzerland; eye disease
- Denis, also against headaches,France; Paris; against frenzy, strife, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people
- Elmo, helper over GI tract diseases, sailors, Gaeta, Formia, colic in children, cramps and the pain of women in labor, cattle pest, Fort St. Elmo, (Malta)
- Eustace, helper over family strife, against fire; difficult situations; fire prevention; firefighters; hunters; hunting; huntsmen; Madrid; torture victims; trappers
- George, patron and helper over domestic animals,agricultural workers; Amersfoort,Netherlands; Aragon; archers; armourers; Bavaria, Germany;Beirut, Lebanon; Bulgaria;Bulgarian Army; butchers; Cappadocia; Catalonia; cavalry; chivalry; Constantinople;Corinthians (Brazilian football team); Crusaders; England; equestrians; Ethiopia; farmers;Ferrara; field workers; Freiburg, Germany; Genoa; Georgia;Gozo; Greece; Haldern,Germany; Heide; herpes; horsemen; horses; husbandmen; knights; lepers and leprosy; Lithuania; Lod;London; Malta; Modica, Sicily;Montenegro; Moscow; Order of the Garter; Palestine; Palestinian Christians; Piran; plague; Portugal; Portuguese Army; Portuguese Navy; Ptuj;Reggio Calabria; riders; Romani people; saddle makers; Serbia;Scouts; sheep; shepherds; skin diseases; Slovenia; soldiers; syphilis; Teutonic Knights
- Giles, patron of many things such as beggars; blacksmiths; breast cancer; breast feeding; cancer patients; disabled people;Edinburgh (Scotland); epilepsy;nocti phobics; forests; hermits;horses; lepers; mental illness;outcasts; poor people; rams;spur makers; sterility; and protection against plague: also patron of making a good confession
- Margaret the Virgin, also known as Marina, patron of safe and healthy childbirth and getting away from demons; and patron of pregnant women, dying people, kidney disease, peasants, exiles, falsely accused people; Lowestoft, England;Queens’ College, Cambridge;nurses; Sannat and Bormla, Malta
- Pantaleon, helper against cancer and TB, physicians, midwives, livestock, lottery, lottery winners and victories, lottery tickets, invoked against headaches, consumption, locusts, witchcraft, accidents and loneliness, helper for crying children
- Vitus, patron and helper of actors; comedians;Czechoslovakia; dancers; dogs;epilepsy; Mazara del Vallo, Sicily; Forio, Ischia;oversleeping; Prague, Czech Republic; rheumatic chorea (Saint Vitus Dance); Rijeka, Croatia; Serbia; snake bites;storms; Vacha, Germany;Zeven, Lower Saxony; Het Gooi, the Netherlands; E Clampus Vitus