Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Year 1000 Today


Osma Beatus, The Frogs, 1086, Biblioteca de la Catedral del Burgo de Osma

      Let us also rehearse once more the elements of our question.  In 954, Adso addressed to Queen Gerberga a treatise designed to oppose the belief in the imminent appearance of the Antichrist, which is the prelude to the end of the world.  In 960, Bernard the hermit announces the end of the world as if it  has been revealed to him.  In 970, the rumor spreads through Lorraine that the end of the world is near.  In 1009, in Jerusalem, men believe that the end of the world has come.  In 1033, in Gaul, men believe that mankind will perish.  In the year 1000 a prodigy in the sky, which men interpret as a sign of God's wrath, portends frightful calamities.  The chronicler of the year 1000, Glaber, lives in terror, the reign of Satan is at hand.  To him, the year 1000 is not the year 999 plus one.  It, or rather the number 1000, has a mysterious meaning, whether the count begins with the Incarnation of Christ or with his Passion.  Yet not one text on that date makes mention of collective terrors or waves of fear.  When the critical moment comes, when the fatal term is reached, the men who earlier were fearful of the end of time and who would afterward exhibit the same dread, felt assured and confident.  There is something strange here.

Facundus Beatus, The Vision of the Lamb (The  four cherubim and the 24 elders), 1047, Bilblioteca Nacional, Madrid

      To the superior minds, and even to minds that were merely enlightened, the validity of the Apocalypse remained wholly incontestable, but that validity was in some way timeless, a kind of perpetual calendar of the deep anxieties of the human soul, of this fear of the judgment without which Christian faith loses an aspect of tremendous poetic power, as well as a very efficacious threat.  That doctrine of an adjournment sine die which arose in the second third of the tenth century would thus have borne fruit.

Facundus Beatus, The Dragon Gives His Power To The Beast, 1047, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

      The texts are meant for those who can read;  the illustrations of these admirable books for those who cannot read; and the same holds true when the illustrations are transferred to the stones of the basilicas.   We must never forget that, apart from the clerics, the culture of the Middle Ages is a visual culture, and that the masses learn the teachings of the faith through their eyes.

From Henri Focillon, The Year 1000 (New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc., 1969)

Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa (Saint Miquel de Cuixa), 2nd half of 10th century, Codalet, Pyrenees-Orientales 

Berwyn, Pennsylvania, January 12, 2011, 0715h (2 images)

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