The Apocalypse in Early Books and Illuminated Manuscripts

I was thoroughly intrigued with the earliest forms of bookmaking and manuscripts after we viewed them in the library today. Two of my other classes for History involve lots of readings of old manuscripts, so it was great to see these books up close.

I believe it was a large book of the history of the world that contained a few blank pages at the end, followed by a large etching or picture of the apocalypse. It depicted the AntiChrist being urged on by the Devil, while a crowd of onlookers listened with rapture. Above them, a wild tumult is occurring, signaling the final struggle at the end of the world.

I find this line of thinking to be a bit counter intuitive: Even as humankind was creating and transforming their world over five hundred years ago, and making new technologies to further assist their artistic and spiritual learning, they were still completely afraid of the impending doom. Whether this was due to the religious sentiment of the time across Europe, or simply a fear of the unknown and strict adherence to old principles, it still struck me as odd to be so afraid that someone would include a massive page of the apocalypse at the end of what was otherwise an incredible and beautifully crafted book.

The invention of the printing press allowed regular people, not just nobles and the Church, to more easily attain knowledge. The Protestant Reformation was largely galvanized by the printing press, and this spread of knowledge, whether religious or otherwise let common people in on the artistic secrets that had eluded them for centuries. While the Apocalypse has not happened (yet) it interests me as to why these images of apocalyptic notions are prevalent in these illuminated manuscripts and early books. Perhaps it kept people grounded into the world they knew, or perhaps it gave them a reason to strive for living the best life possible.

One Reply to “The Apocalypse in Early Books and Illuminated Manuscripts”

  1. It’s an interesting philosophical question. I’d say that the biggest reason they felt obliged to include it in history books was to make it clear that they were keeping within the framework laid down in the Bible: the way the world began, and the way that it will one day end. I don’t know if that means they thought it was right around the corner or not, though. The inclusion of some blanks between modern day and the End might suggest they didn’t– it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t have thought that was at odds with the spread of knowledge and technology, though. I think it was looked at as inevitable, and the more people found out about their salvation beforehand, the better.

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