October 18, 2012 by Gail Armstrong
The Big Bang – it’s the most widely-accepted theory of the mechanism whereby the universe came to be and it’s pretty exciting stuff…nothingness, sudden appearance of intensely dense and hot singularity, then a universe-shattering kaboom that results in ka-billions of years of expansion, the formation of infinite galaxies, stars and planets, and on at least one little planet, little ‘ol us, and all our animal companions, came to be.
Too bad no one has illuminated that! (Perhaps a modern illuminator will do so – I know there is one very talented artist hard at work on illuminating Darwin’s Origin of Species – a wonderful project about which you can read at http://www.illuminatedorigin.com/The_Illuminated_Origin_of_Species/Home.html.)
At least there is no lack of illuminations of the other end of the story – the Apocalypse, complete with Judgment Day. One of my favourite sources of end-time images is the work commonly known as The Welles Apocalypse, otherwise known as Peter Peckham’s La lumere as lais, an English manuscript dating from the first quarter of the 14th century. I particularly like this as a source of apocalyptic images because first, the images are wonderful and second, because it illustrates the unfolding story every step of the way. Following are some highlights of the more dramatic aspects of the story.
You may recall that horsemen play a role…here is the rider on a white horse with his bow:
(this and all subsequent images may be found at http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7743&CollID=16&NStart=150402)
There follow a rider on a red horse with a sword, a rider on a black horse bearing a scale, then the most dramatic horseman of all, Death on a pale horse:
He may not look too scary, but he’s on his way to slaughter a quarter of the earth by various means. I believe the toothy mouth from which he emerges is meant to be a hell-mouth. That’s John on the left bearing witness to the beginning of the end.
As Death starts his grisly work, we see earthquakes:
Those are the kings and nobles of the earth hiding in caves.
Then come the angel trumpeters, seven in all:
Again, they may not look too menacing here, but that first one sounding his flourish is in fact causing hail and fire, mingled with blood, to be thrown to the earth, burning up a third of the trees and green grass.
The second (whom we saw in my last post on Angels) causes a mountain to fall to the sea, turning one third of the sea to blood.
The third causes a great star, called Wormwood, to fall from the sky into the streams of the earth, resulting in the deaths of those who taste its bitterness
I love that the star looks like some kind of power-saw.
The fourth causes the third part of the sun, the moon, and the stars to be darkened, while the fifth sounds a note that causes another great star to fall from the heavens into a pit, and unleashes locusts from the earth.
Here are the locusts:
Now I’m finally scared – those are some huge locusts! Revelations explains that the locusts have a human appearance (faces and hair) but have lion’s teeth and breastplates of iron. The sound of their wings resembles the thunderings of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. (I imagine comparable to the sound the Concorde used to make on take-off…every generation needs its own point of reference.)
John then witnesses the four-horned altar of God instructing the sixth angel to sound his trumpet to release the four angels bound in the River Euphrates in order that they may prepare two hundred million horsemen to kill a third of mankind by use of three plagues: fire, smoke, and brimstone. There are lots of numbers in Revelation, all of them boding ill. Here you have the army of horsemen:
The horses, you’ll note, have the heads of lions and the tails of serpents. Honestly, it’s the apocalyptic animals that scare me most…could it be genetic modification gone wild that dooms us in the end??
When the seventh finally sounds his trumpet, it releases the Third Woe and the Seven Bowls and all manner of things happen including a woman giving birth, a dragon whacking stars to the earth with his tail, etc. but essentially culminating in a war in heaven. That’s where this image (which I featured in my last post on Angels) comes in:
Is it always the case that ultimate evil looks visually more interesting than the forces of good? Those angels just look so cold and conformist, while the beasts are colourful and expressive…
Eventually a beast arises from the earth, and this is where the mark of the beast, ‘666’, comes in as he directs the remaining people of the earth to worship his image and wear his mark on their foreheads. Then, we’re told, an angel reaps “the vine of the earth” and throws it into “the great winepress of the wrath of God… and blood came out of the winepress… up to one thousand six hundred furlongs.” Here’s the harvest for that disturbing vintage:
Then come the seven bowls, or vials:
One by one they’re poured, causing
1. Foul and loathsome sores to afflict the followers of the beast
2. The sea turns to blood, causing all creatures within it to die
3. All fresh water turns to blood
4. The sun scorches the earth
5. Total darkness and great pain in the beast’s kingdom
6. Preparations begin for the final battle
7. A great earthquake.
Then comes the Whore of Babylon (I know you’ve been waiting for her):
I know – a little disappointing.
Babylon of course falls and the beast and false prophet are ultimately cast into a lake of fire:
Meanwhile Satan is imprisoned for a thousand years, only to be released, make trouble again and end up in aforementioned lake of fire.
Then everyone gets judged:
This is where I may regret my irreverent comments about angels in my previous post…I repent, really I do.
Then it’s all uphill from here as John witnesses the creation of a new heaven and earth, devoid of suffering.
I want to go to there.
Christ is enthroned and all is well in the new world – you know because he’s giving the peace sign and everyone’s clapping.
(Anyone else wondering, though, if it isn’t all going to start all over again? Cue music, possibly Also Sprach Zarathustra, it builds, builds….kaboom!)