December 18, 2023


Step inside the front door of the Castle and it is such a welcome relief to escape the endless rain and to be out of the wintery weather. There are gravel puddles, grass puddles and splodgy mud in the fields – it is all just sitting on top of the ground. There is simply no capacity left to drain away any more water.

In contrast however, the front hall looks really rather lovely this year, full of deep dark greenery, tall bay trees and, set towards the front, pale stone angels.

As visitors make their way deeper into the castle, various other angels emerge from mantelshelves and floral arrangements. Some are larger, some smaller, some detailed and some just modern outlines. There is even one in flight, blowing a trumpet.

There have probably been angels as long as there have been people – written records from the earliest Zoroastrians for example reference armies of angels whilst the concept of hosts of angels and archangels continues through the books of both the Old and New Testaments. Some of the angels have specific names such as Gabriel or Michael and the original church here at Highclere was named St Michael and all Angels.

Angels are portrayed in art as real but in literature their role shifts between the physical and the philosophical. The primary role of angels seems to be to act as a bridge over the cosmic divide that separates God and humanity – they are messengers but are only able to show God’s message rather than act as principals: they cannot give instructions.

As Christmas nears, those who enjoy the carol concerts and readings hear about the angels who foretell the birth of baby Jesu. They later appear at key moments throughout his life, for example after he spent 40 days in the desert,” behold, angels came and ministered to him” and famously in Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb following the resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels.

Yet angels are not just part of the past. They are also part of the new landscape as demonstrated for example by the contemporary sculpture “The Angel of the North” by Anthony Gormley. Arguably it is one of the most easily recognisable modern public artworks in the UK and, at 66 ft tall with a wingspan of 177 ft, it certainly is the largest sculpture of an angel in the world. It is it is also a reminder of the industrial history of the area in which it stands, just by a disused mining quarry, yet references the future as a focus for human hopes and fears. Anthony Gormley said “People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them.”

Angels can, quite literally, be found everywhere and not just in art, literature and architecture. A chapel in Assisi, Italy, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, inspired the name of a new town founded in 1781 in a faraway new country called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was later shortened simply to Los Angeles.

The idea that we each have a Guardian angel who is there to protect us is both an enduring and a positive thought. That for those of us travelling through life both metaphorically and on an actual journey, “who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer.” What more could a traveller ask for?