Angels have no wings, says Catholic 'angelologist'
A girl dressed as an angel in the crowd outside the San Joaquin Episcopal Palace in Rio de Janeiro as Pope Francis delivers the Angelus prayer on July 26, 2013
"I think there is a re-discovery of angels in Christianity," Father Renzo Lavatori told AFP on the sidelines of a conference on angels in a lavishly-frescoed Renaissance palace in Rome.
"You do not see angels so much as feel their presence," said Lavatori, adding: "They are a bit like sunlight that refracts on you through a crystal vase."
The senior clergyman was taking part in a debate this week on angelic art by the Fondazione Archivio Storico, an Italian art foundation, and was held in the Vatican-owned Palazzo della Cancelleria.
Professor Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an art historian taking part in the conference, said the first mention of the word "angelos" came from the Mycenaean civilization in Greece more than 3,000 years ago.
The word means "messenger" in ancient Greek.
Monsignor Giovanni Tonucci, head of the Loreto Marian sanctuary, said that angels were "pure souls" whose lack of a defined form had allowed artists through the ages to let their creative imagination run wild.
"Following the cultural history of angels is following the history of humanity, or at least of our civilization," the organisers said.
"Angels have helped drive religious and philosophical thought and have given birth to sublime forms of poetic and artistic expression," they said.
Lavatori said the popularised image of angels is a necessary result of their being "back in fashion" but is dismissive of all the angel art around Christmas.
"There is space for that, but you have to understand that these are not real representations. Angels do not have wings or look like cherubs," he said.
The widely-published Catholic clergyman is also a "demonologist" and says angels are more needed than ever because increasing secularisation and materialism in society have left an "open door" for the devil.
"There is a lot more interference from diabolical forces. That is why you see queues of people outside the exorcists' offices in churches," he said.
"Pope Francis talks more about the devil than about angels and I think rightly so. But it's still early, he will get round to the angels too."