Goddess of Victory or angel?

Theatre Square and Victory Monument, Chemnitz 1911; postcard no. 13524; published by Brück & Sohn Kunstverlag, licence CC0 1.0 Universal, via Wikimedia Commons

She is winged, the Victoria, standing tall on the top of the Ionic column of the war memorial in Chemnitz. The sculptor Anton Theodor Händler made a monument to commemorate the soldiers killed of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871 based on a design by the architect Gustav Rumpel, land inspector in Chemnitz. At the junction of Theaterstraße/Äußere/Innere Klosterstraße, in a small park, the Chemnitz Victoria looks out over Theaterplatz. In her left hand she holds a palm branch as the Goddess of Peace, in her right hand as the Goddess of Victory the laurel wreath. As double-faced as any of her kind, she is a witness to the human activity on the Theatre Square and the surrounding streets from 1875 until her destruction in 1947.
They are not harmless profane angels who find their place as Victoria on war memorials. The materials from which they are made often bear witness to this. In Chemnitz, Anton Theodor Händler used French gun metal in addition to the local Pirna sandstone. In Berlin, the Goddess stands on the gilded cannon barrels of three wars. War memorials thus – even if they are called Victory Columns, Victory Monuments or Memorials. She towers above the names of those killed, the Victoria, and raises the laurel wreath into the air.
But the Chemnitz Goddess of Victory presents the victor’s wreath in an unusually restrained manner: held diagonally downwards, it looks as if she wants to crown the city at her feet with it.

Since classical antiquity, laurel has been regarded as a symbol of victory and glory – palm fronds as a symbol of peace and victory. Both agree on the symbol of victory.
Triumph over the enemy is always also triumph over the defeated people. The struggle, the death and the hatred have all been worthwhile. The palm branch in the other hand is almost lost in the photographic images, because held close to the body it nearly merges with the robe.

Palms root very deeply with only one taproot without a lateral root, or shallowly with ever new roots of somewhat the same thickness, which are replaced by new ones after they die. Both types enable this plant species to be firmly rooted in the earth, just as in the Jewish faith the righteous are rooted.
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God. (Psalm 92:13).
Therefore, the Feast of Tabernacles not only recalls the time of privation when Jews lived in huts covered with palm fronds and in tents after the exodus from Egypt, but also the joy and rejoicing over the end of bondage. And of the hope that the Jewish people placed in the Messiah, who entered Jerusalem as the supposed king and was received with palm branches as the returning victor (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51).
As a sign of life, of victory over death and as a symbol of peace, palm branches are consecrated on Palm Sunday and carried in Christian processions on the Sunday before Easter. Pope Benedict XVI points out that the choice of the mount, a donkey, refers to Jesus’ non-violence and peacefulness and that of his coming kingdom. He does not enter Jerusalem on a chariot, a war chariot and with heavy weapons, but on the mount of poor people. It is not by political or military power that he wants to free Israel from Roman occupation.

Is Victoria an angel or not? Is it only her wings that put her close to angels? In the Torah, the Old and the New Testament, angels do not have wings. The only exception is the angel in Revelation, whose wings are not described, but his ability to fly is:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, … (Revelation 14:6).

The cherubim, however, are described as winged beings, e.g. in the instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant:
And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. (Exodus 25:20)
Or in Ezekiel’s vision, in the midst of tempest, cloud, and fire:
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. (Ezekiel 1:5-9)

Seraphim have only one task: to praise and worship God.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:8)

But like the wings of the seraphim, those of the cherubim do not serve to fly, but to glorify God.
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Is what we think of as “angels” today based more on Greek and Roman mythology, where the Goddesses of Victory, Nike and Victoria, are at home? The Greek Goddess of Peace Eirene usually has to do without wings …

Marlen Wagner