Astrology and theology
The religious feasts
are the main contents of the Calendars of Psalters or Books of Hours.
Its illustration shows the typical activities of the seasons of the year
in the Labours of the Month and the passing of astronomical time in the
Signs of the Zodiac.
since man recognized some kind of regularity in the movement of stars
and planets, he has believed that the celestial bodies influenced
earthly events. Ideas, ultimately dating back to Babylonian times,
persisted in the Middle Ages, and even today horoscopes continue to be
drawn. In some regions of the world hardly a marriage is concluded
without a serious look at the constellations.
Christian theologians were of course most familiar with the astrological ideas of the Graeco-Roman world.
presented a challenge to their own ideas about the omnipotence of God,
and they wrote many pages to reject what was unacceptable in their eyes.
Natural history and bestiaries
and other texts on natural history are populated with animals both
actual and fabulous. It is as if they illustrate the story of the fifth
and sixth day of the Creation: living creatures each after its kind. The
properties ascribed to certain animals made them suitable as metaphors
of vices or Christian virtues. As modern books and movies demonstrate,
both real and phantasy animals continue to challenge our imagination.
Part eagle, part lion, the griffin fuses the two mightiest animals into
one. Ruling heaven and earth, immortal and of a double nature, it can
symbolize Christ. When a griffin mates with a mare, they produce a
Hippogriff: the eagle part of a griffin, hind legs and tail of a horse.
The Hippogriff still lives: it is the pet of Hagrid, one of the main
characters of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga.
St. Petronilla holding the devil by a leading-string
Forms of evil
is shown here, the devil may take on different guises in the
illuminations we find in these manuscripts, but there are three basic
ingredients: man, animal, and pure phantasy. When he tries to tempt
Christ in the desert, or when he fools a nobleman, he looks almost
human. But the miniaturist makes sure he does not fool us: his feet are
that of an animal, or his eyes are burning coals.
tell us, that he may turn himself into a cat. He may also be a pale,
threatening creature taking souls to hell. The colourful monsters
pestering saint Pachomius could have been designed by Bosch. Finally,
the devil that seduces Theophilus to sell his soul, looks like one of
the more malicious Muppets designed by Jim Henson.
Holy helpers: male saints and female saints
veneration of saints is as old as the Christian church itself.
Christians believed that saints could intercede for them with God. Of
couse many still do. Where saints were buried, people gathered to
celebrate the anniversary of their death. On this foundation an
elaborate system developed during the Middle Ages. For specific
complaints or dangers people would ask help from a specific saint.
A deaconess in Alexandria. She refused to renounce Christ and her teeth
were broken during torture. They threatened to burn her if she
persisted. She didn't wait, but jumped into the fire herself. She
protects against toothaches and is patroness of dentists.
Creation of Sun, Moon and Stars
The Creation of the World
beginning of Genesis, the first book of the bible, has always given
rise to reflection and debate. In the Middle Ages this debate remained
of course within the boundaries of the Christian faith. The created
universe was an accepted fact, not an opinion to be discussed. Since
Darwin and the rise of evolutionary theory, the debate has received an
added dimension, and it certainly has not lost its topicality. One only
has to search the internet with the combined keywords 'evolution' and
'creation' to get an impression of the occasional intensity of the
discussion. This gallery, obviously, is not a contribution to the
debate. It merely serves to show how the creation was visualized in the