Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have been obsessed with the end of the world. By the height of the European Renaissance, our doomsday fascinations had become fertile territory for artists and historians alike.
Around 1550 in Augsburg, Germany, a strange and intriguing publication called The Book of Miracles was making its way around humanistic circles, depicting various "signs from God" of the approaching Judgment Day. Each surreal scene is illustrated in stunning color and provides insight into the social and religious anxieties of 16th-century Europe.
Until recently, The Book of Miracles remained hidden in a private collection, but a recent facsimile volume by the publisher Taschen has returned the wondrous pages to all of their former Renaissance glory.
Here are some of the most bizarre and unnerving scenes depicted in the book.
The Beast From the Bottomless Pit
"And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city."
Hail in Dordrecht
"In A.D. 1552, on May 17, such a terrible storm with hail descended on Dordrecht in Holland, that the people thought the Day of Judgement was coming. And it lasted about half an hour. Several of the stones weighed up to a few pounds and 8 lot. And where they fell, they gave a frightful stench."
"In the year A.D. 1513, in January, it was told that this was born to a Metzerin in Bleiburg, issuing dead from its mother’s womb then to be buried, and four hours later dug up again by Anton Raidhaupt himself, at that time the Countess of Lodron’s steward, unwrapped from its shroud and examined very carefully in the presence of a priest. Afterwards the painter Hans Burgkmair was commissioned to record it in detail, as it appears above."
"In the year 1506, a comet appeared for several nights and turned its tail towards Spain. In this year, a lot of fruit grew and was completely destroyed by caterpillars or rats. This was followed eight and nine years later, in this country and in Italy, by an earthquake, so great and violent that in Constantinople a great many buildings were knocked down and people perished."
"In A.D. 1496, in the month of January, at the time the Tiber burst its banks high and wide near Rome: what wondrous creature appeared, found dead where the raging and the might of the Tiber’s waters had subsided, and was in this shape and form, as it is painted there."
The Sea Monster and the Beast With the Lamb’s Horn
"And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying 'Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?'”
Whale and Earthquake in Lisbon
"In the year 1531, on the twenty-sixth and then on the twenty-eighth a great whale was seen in the sky. This was followed by great earthquakes, so that about two hundred houses collapsed and more than a thousand people were killed. "
"In the year A.D 1009, the sun went dark and the moon was seen all blood-red and a great earthquake struck and there fell from the sky with a loud and crashing noise a huge burning torch like a column or a tower. This was followed by the death of many people and famine throughout Germany and Italy. More people died than remained alive."
Dragons Over Bohemia
"The year 1533, in October, flying dragons were seen in Bohemia and the Vogtland, as well as in the small area of Ascher [city in Czech Republic], a crest on their heads, a snout like a pig, and with two wings. This then went on for several days, with over four hundred of them, both big and small, flying together, as is painted here."
"In the land of the Romans in the year 73 BC, a golden ball was seen in the sky, which then came down to the earth and rolled about and flew back up into the air again, in the direction of the rising sun, so that its great size covered up the sun completely. This was followed by the great Roman war."
Celestial Swordsman, Castle and Army Over Strasbourg
"In the year 1531 a bloody vision with a sword in its hand was seen near Strasbourg and in other parts, as well as a fiery citadel and opposite that an armed host on horseback, just as is painted here."