Today, 24 October, is the feast day of Saint Raphael the Archangel. Raphael is one of the seven Archangels, and one of the only three mentioned by name in the Bible, together with Gabriel and Michael (Luke 1:9–26; Jude 1:9).
Raphael only appears in the Biblical Book of Tobit, as the travelling companion of Tobias, Tobit’s son. He initially presents himself as “Azarias the son of the great ananias”. Back from his journey with Tobias (sent to Media to collect a debt), Raphael delivers Sarah, Tobias’ future wife, from the demon Asmodeus, and heals the blind Tobit. His true identity is then revealed and he makes himself known as “the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tobit 12:15). In virtue of his healing powers, Saint Raphael is also believed to be the archangel who healed the multitude of infirm at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-4).
St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers, and as such he is depicted holding a staff. Often, he is represented with Tobias, holding or standing on a fish, which alludes to the healing of Tobit with a fish’s gall.
Francesco Botticini, The Three Archangels and Tobias, 1470, tempera on wood, Florence, Uffizi Gallery.
Pietro Perugino, The Archangel Raphael with Tobias, 1496-1500, oil with some egg tempera on poplar, London, National Gallery.
Altobello Melone, Tobias and the Angel, early 1520s, oil on panel, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.
Domenichino, Landscape with Tobias laying hold of the Fish, 1610-13, oil on copper, London, National Gallery.
Francesco and Gianantonio Guardi, The healing of Tobit, c. 1750, oil on canvas, Venice, Church of the Arcangelo Raffaele.