Speak Softly and Carry a Big Sword

Saints and angels in churches are often armed with mighty swords. This is usually taken as being symbolic, the sword either signifying some violent death of a martyr or the might of the Lord. I'm not so sure about this. Christianity, like Islam, did indeed spread by the power of the word to some extent, but more often than not the power of the sword was the decisive factor. e.g. in the continent America.
"Speak softly and carry a big stick" was a guiding principle for the American president Theodore Roosevelt. Early missionaries like St. Bonifatius, Charlemagne, Colombus or Pizarro acted more on the promise of "speak softly and carry a big sword". The less holy ones like Charlemagne converted a lot of reluctant heathens to good Christians by having their heads chopped off.
When I encounter heavily armed saints in churches and other places I often get the impression that the artists wanted to convey a bit of the more violent aspects of Christianity besides just the symbolic stuff. Below are some examples

The most fearsome swordbearers are cherubs or (arch) angels wielding a flaming sword. I haven't encountered a good rendering of a cherub so far (a concoction of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle plus lots of wings). The Cherubim in the Hagia Sophia not only doesn't carry a sword but looks a bit woebegone if not actually afraid of something. There are, however, several pretty if fearsome Ladies with a flaming sword around.
A flaming sword is a sword glowing with flame by some supernatural power. It should not be confused with flame-bladed sword that is just a regular sword with a characteristically undulating style of blade. Adam and Eve encountered a flaming sword when they were kicked out of paradise.
     
Cherub with flaming sword
Left-handed (arch)angel with flaming sword on top of
some church in Granada, Spain
     
  Raised sword in the left, and palm frond in the right. The message is clear: Submit or else
     
Archangle with flaming sword in Bamberg; Germay
Angel with flaming sword inside a
church in Bamberg, Germany
     
  This female angel obviously knows how to wield a sword; witness the fencing position. She is casting out the devil and not defending paradise.
     
   
Saint Boniface († 5 June 754), the Apostle of the Germans,
in the Banz church, Germany
     
Speak softly and hit them with the bible? Not really. Saint Boniface is often shown with a bible impaled on his sword. It symbolizes that he tried to protect himself (unsuccessfully) with a bible from the sword blows that killed him.
     
     
Armed saints in banu monastery
Heavily armed saints in Banz monastery
(Catherine on the left; probably Elisabeth on the right)
     
  The church of the Banz monastery, started in 1710, is one of the most beautiful baroque churches in Europe. Interestingly, everybody in there is heavily armed and the central altar painting depicts a beheading in loving detail.
Some Saints were immune to beheading and thus needed no sword. The way they were killed (eventually) is clear from the way they are shown.
   
Saint Aklban in Vierzehnheiligen, Germany
St Dionysius (Denis) in the Basilika Vierzehnheiligen, Germany
     
  Moving form Banz monastery across the river Mainz to "Vierzehnheiligen" (Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers), on finds one of the most beautiful rococo churches of Europe. There are armed saints too, at Vierzehnheiligen but not quite as many as in the Banz monastery and with far smaller swords.
     
Saint
Rococo Saint at "Vierzehnheiligen", Germany
     
All those armed Saints look much alike:
     
Saints with swords
Armed Saints in Cordoba, Spain and Kappeln, Germany
     
Here is a professional sword bearer and a Saint: Stephen III of Moldavia, also known as Stefan the Great (1433, 1504). He won 46 of his 48 battles; in particular he gained a decisive victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Vaslui in 1475, keeping the "Turks" out of Europe. He was canonized in 1992 by the Synodic Council of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The monument goes back to 1923 but was not in evidence when Moldovia was part of the Russian empire. On August 1989, two years before Moldavia became independent, the monument was returned to its original location,
  His sword, by the way, is displayed in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. Obviously the Turks took it in one of the two battles he lost.
     
Stefan the Great; Moldova
Stephen the Great in Chisinau, capital of modern Moldavia.
His sword is on display in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul
Stephen the great's sword
     
The sword of this morosely looking guy is a bit too large to just symbolize his violent death, me thinks. The same is true for the St. Paul below
   
 
Saint in bremen
Saint in Bremen, Germany
     
   
St. Paul in a picture in Coburg, Germany
St. Paul in a picture in Coburg, Germany
     
Here we have Johann Friedrich der Großmütige, Kurfürst von Sachsen (1503 - 1554) or John the Magnanimous, Elector of Saxony. Not a Saint but at least magnanimous.
Looks like you can't be magnanimous all the time; on occasion heads need to roll.
     
Johann Friedrich der Großmütige, Kurfürst von Sachsen (1503 - 1554)
Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder; Berlin
     
This beauty I found on what appears to be an altar cloth (containing the usual very Christian motifs in other places) in the castle of Eutin in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It was made from chewed bread and textiles.
The guy most certainly looks like a highway robber but must be a Saint as we know from the context.
     
Stiched saint
Saint or highway robber?
     
Münster in Germany is a town named after its cathedral (or "Münster" if the edifice turned protestant at some time).
There are plenty sword related things in there; here is a heavily armed saint:
     
Muenster saint
Salesman for the good book
     

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go to Critical Museum Guide: Museums in Istanbul, Turkey

go to Critical Museum Guide: Landesmuseum Schleswig-Holstein in Schleswig, Germany

go to Critical Museum Guide: "The Vikings" Special Exhibition from Oct. 2014 - Jan. 2015 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau

go to The Ages

go to Swords and Symbols

go to Old Sagas, Heroes and Swords

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