Instead of marginalia, this week I offer you a medieval mystery.
A while back a colleague contacted me on behalf of a fellow working for the History Channel. Sadly, they were not interested in picking up my medieval detective miniseries,* but rather they wanted my help identifying the source of an image that some claim is a manuscript illustration of a medieval UFO sighting. This is that picture:
These images of two crusaders date from a 12th century manuscript “Annales Laurissense”, and refer to a Ufo sighting in the year 776 A.D. during the siege on Sigiburg Castle, France, by the Saxons. Suddenly a group of discs (flaming shields) appeared and started hovering over the top of the church. The Saxons believed the French were protected by these objects and fled.”
Another blogger helpfully sums up the truth of the matter much more ably than I would have,** like so:
The oldest manuscript known today which contains a copy of the Annales Laurissenses is known as the Lorsch Codex. This is where the Annales Laurissenses took their name, monasterium Laureshamense being the Latin name of the Lorsch monastery. The Lorsch Codex is indeed dated from the 12th century and is most probably the one referred to when talking about the provenance of the above illustrations. […] Unfortunately, even if the Lorsch Codex does contain some miniatures for initials, it does not contain our beautiful world-wide-web illustrations. These must have come from elsewhere.
So, yes, there is a chronicle which describes glowing shields in the sky, but there is no illuminated copy of it that has images that even remotely look like those. They must have come from elsewhere, and it’s the elsewhere that’s been giving me fits over the last few months. As aforelinked blogger correctly points out elsewhere in his post, the image on the left is almost certainly a mislabled picture of one of the three magi being led by the star of Bethlehem, a recurring motif in medieval iconography. The knight [there weren’t any crusaders in 776 –ed.] who seems to be saying “Gooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaal!!!!!!” is harder to place, especially as his armor is so generically vague.
My theory is that someone took two originally separate images, one of a magi and the star, another of a knight with his hands over his head, and redrew them with modern paint and ink, making the star look more like a UFO and adding the UFO over the knight. But I hold out hope that someone, somewhere, has seen the original images in their proper context and knows where the fraudulent-UFO-captioner took them from.
So, anyone? You were all so crackerjack with the snails that I expect you’ll be able to have the mystery solved by lunchtime tomorrow. In which case, I will definitely pass your hard work off as my own and use their high esteem of me to get the monkey-loving medieval detective series off the ground.
*It follows a fictional deodand examiner who investigates wrongful deaths in the margins of gothic manuscripts. His sidekick is a cynocephalus who hides his condition with a variety of clever headbands. Oh, and his love interest is a girl with the hindquarters of a monkey. Hmm, come to think of it, I should lead with the monkey-hybrid girl. Animal/human romance is so hot right now.
**With far fewer non sequitur-laden footnotes, I might add.***
***In a non-sequitur-laden footnote, natch.