Commentary on the Apocalypse

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The 6th seal from the Morgan Beatus

Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria in Apocalypsin) is a book written in the eighth century by the Spanish monk and theologian Beatus of Liébana (730–785) and copied and illustrated in manuscript in works called "Beati" during the 10th and 11th centuries AD.[1] It is a commentary on the New Testament Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelation. It also refers to any manuscript copy of this work, especially any of the 27 illuminated copies that have survived. It is often referred to simply as the Beatus. The historical significance of the Commentary is made even more pronounced since it included a world map, which offers a rare insight into the geographical understanding of the post-Roman world. Well-known copies include the Morgan, the Saint-Sever, the Gerona, the Osma and the Madrid (Vitr 14-1) Beatus codices.

Considered together, the Beatus codices are among the most important Spanish manuscripts and have been the subject of extensive scholarly and antiquarian enquiry. The illuminated versions now represent the best known works of Mozarabic art, and had some influence on the medieval art of the rest of Europe.

The Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria in Apocalypsin)[edit]

The work consists of several prologues (which differ among the manuscripts) and one long summary section (the "Summa Dicendum") before the first book, an introduction to the second book, and 12 books of commentary, some long and some very short. Beatus states in its dedication to his friend Bishop Etherius that it is meant to educate his brother monks.

The work is structured around selections from previous Apocalypse commentaries and references by Ticonius (now mostly lost), St. Primasius of Hadrumetum, St. Caesarius of Arles, St. Apringius of Beja, and many others. There are also long extracts from the texts of the Fathers of the Church and Doctors of the Church, especially Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Irenaeus of Lyons, Pope Gregory I, Saint Jerome of Stridon, and Isidore of Seville. Some manuscripts add commentaries on the books of Ezekiel and Daniel by other authors, genealogical tables, and the like, but these are not strictly part of the Beatus.

The creative character of the Commentary comes from Beatus' writing of a wide-ranging catena of verses from nearly every book of the Bible, quotes of patristic commentary from many little known sources, and interstitial original comments by Beatus. His attitude is one of realism about church politics and human pettiness, hope and love towards everyday life even when it is difficult, and many homely similes from his own time and place. (For example, he compares evangelization to lighting fires for survival when caught far from home by a sudden mountain blizzard, and the Church to a Visigothic army with both generals and muleskinners.) His work is also a fruitful source for Spanish linguistics, as Beatus often alters words in his African Latin sources to the preferred synonyms in Hispanic Latin.

The message[edit]

Vision of the Lamb, the four cherubim and the 24 elders from the Facundus-Beatus (f. 117v)

The Kingdom of Toledo fell in 711, leaving most of the Iberian Peninsula in the hands of Muslim conquerors.[2] Christians under Pelayo managed to establish one kingdom on the northern coast, protected by the Cantabrian Mountains.[2] Beautus lived in the Cantabrian valley of Liébana.[2] With the recent conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the Apocalypse and the symbolism in it took on a different meaning. The beast, which had previously been believed to represent the Roman Empire, now became the Caliphate, and Babylon was no longer Rome, but Córdoba.

In continuity with previous commentaries written in the Tyconian tradition, and in continuity with St. Isidore of Seville and St. Apringius of Beja from just a few centuries before him, Beatus' Commentary on the Apocalypse focuses on the sinless beauty of the eternal Church, and on the tares growing among the wheat in the Church on Earth. Persecution from outside forces like pagan kings and heretics is mentioned, but it is persecution from fellow members of the Church that Beatus spends hundreds of pages on. Anything critical of the Jews in the Bible is specifically said to have contemporary effect as a criticism of Christians, and particularly of monks and other religious, and a good deal of what is said about pagans is stated as meant as a criticism of Christians who worship their own interests more than God. Muslims are barely mentioned, except as references to Christian heresies include them. Revelation is a book about the Church's problems throughout all ages, not about history per se. In the middle of Book 4 of 12, Beatus does state his guess about the end-date of the world (801 AD, from the number of the Holy Spirit plus Alpha, as well as a few other calculations) although he warns people that it is folly to try to guess a date that even Jesus in the Bible claimed not to know.[3][4][5][6][7]

Copies of the manuscript[edit]

There are 35 surviving copies, 27 of which are illustrated below:[8][9]

Illustrated in the Iberian Peninsula[edit]

9th through 11th centuries[edit]

Date finished Manuscript ID Names known as Current repository Other information Links to image archives Example image Illustrator
9th century AD unknown Nájera fragment unknown Probably associated with the abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos Unknown
Circa 920–930[1] Ms. 33 Beatus of San Millán de la Cogolla.[1] Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid * Ms. 33 Beato de San Millan de la Cogolla.
*Ms. 33 Beato de San Millan de la Cogolla. (Select images)
*Ms. 33 (black and white images)
Middle of the 10th century. Alternative dates include the end of the 9th century, 920–930 and 925–935.[10] Ms. Vit. 14.1 *Beati in Apocalipsin libri duodecim.
*Emilianense Codice
*Beatus of San Millán)
*Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex[10])
Kept at Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid.[10] Vit. 14-1 Beati in Apocalipsin libri duodecim. (Emilianenses Codice)
Circa 950–955 Ms. Cod. & II.5 *Escorial Beatus of San Millán
*Beatus of the monastery of the Escorial[1])
El Escorial, Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo 225 x 355 mm. 151 leaves; 52 miniatures.[11] *Ms. Cod. & II.5 Escorial Beatus of San Millán. Unknown
Circa 960[1] Ms 644 *Morgan Beatus
*Beatus of San Miguel de Escalada
*Beatus of the Magius[1])
Morgan Library (New York) 280 x 380 mm. 89 miniatures. Some reproductions have name Pierpoint attached for the Pierpoint-Morgan Library. *Ms 644 Morgan Beatus. Click on image to access all pages. Illustrated by Magius, archipictor.[12]
Circa 968–970[13] AHN CODICES, L.1097 Beatus of Tábara.[13] Archivo Histórico Nacional Mostly un-illustrated but some large images. *Ms 1097 B Beatus of San Salvador de Távara. Click on image to access all pages.
* AHN CODICES,L.1097 Beatus of Tábara
Magius (finished by his apprentice Emeterio at the Monastery of Tábara, Zamora.[13])
Circa 970[1] Ms. 433
(ex ms 390)
Beatus of Valcavado.[1] Valladolid. Biblioteca de la Universidad 97 miniatures extant *Ms. 433 Beatus of Valcavado Click on image to access all pages. Painted by Oveco for the abbot Semporius.
Circa 975[1] Ms. 7 *Gerona Beatus
Beatus of Gerona[1]
Beatus of Távara
Held at the Cathedral of Girona. Archives. 260 x 400 mm. 280 leaves. 160 miniatures Ms. 7 Gerona Beatus (Girona Beatus) Click on image to access all pages. Painted by Emeterius (pupil of Magius) and by the nun Ende.[14]
Circa 975 Ms. 26 *Beatus of La Seu d'Urgell.[15]
*Urgell Beatus of Rioja or León
*Beatus of the Cathedral of Urgell[1])
Held at the archives of the Cathedral of La Seu d'Urgell 90 miniatures *Ms. 26 Urgell Beatus. Click on image to access all pages. Illustrator unknown
1047[1] Ms. Vit. 14.2 *Beatus of Liébana
*Beatus of León
*Beatus of Facundo[1]
*Beato of Facundus
*Beatos de la Biblioteca Nacional de España[16]
Beato de Fernando I y doña Sancha[16]
Held at Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid. Made for Ferdinand I and Queen Sancha. 267 x 361 mm. 312 leaves. 98 miniatures. *VITR 14.2 (pdf)Beato of Liébana: Codice of Fernando I and Dña. Sancha. (Facundo/Facundus) Illustrated by Facundo/Facundus[17][18]
Circa 1086[19] Cod. 1 *Beatus of Burgo of Osma.[19]
*Beatus of Liébana - Burgo de Osma Codex
Kept at the library of the Cathedral of Burgo de Osma. 225 x 360 mm. 166 folios. 71 thumbnails. Scribe: Petrus. Painter: Martinus.[20]
1091–1109 Add MS 11695[21] *Beatus of Santo Domingo de Silos London. British Library * Add MS 11695 British Library access to Beatus of Santo Domingo de Silos.
* Add MS 11695 Beatus of Santo Domingo de Silos. Click on image to access all pages.

12th and 13th centuries[edit]

  • Beatus of Navarra.[22] (Beatus of Liébana - Navarra Codex). Circa 12th century, 60 illuminations.[22] Kept at Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.[22] Ms. Nouv. Acq. Lat. 1366[22]
  • Beatus of Turin. (''Beato de Turín[23]) (Beatus of Liébana - Turin Codex[23]) Held at Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, Turin.[23] J.II.1 (olim lat.93).[23] 214 folios, 360 x 275 mm, 106 miniatures[23] Date of creation unknown. 12th century.[23]
  • Rylands Beatus [R]: Manchester, John Rylands Library Latin MS 8), ca. 1175.[24]
  • Cardeña Beatus. (Beatus of San Pedro de Cardeña[1]). (códice del Monasterio de San Pedro de Cardeña, Burgos).[25] Ca. 1180. Document split up; many pages unaccounted for. Currently accounted for folios are dispersed between collections in 1) Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid Ms. 2. (127 folios), 2) Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (15 folios), 3) the private collection of Francisco de Zabálburu y Basabe (2 folios), 4) Museu d’Art de Girona in Girona (1).[26] A facsimile edition by M. Moleiro Editor has gathered them all to recreate the original volume as it was.[26] The Museo Arqueológical Nacional reports that the Diocesan Museum of Gerona has a folio and the Collection Heredia-Spínola of Madrid has a folio-and a-half.[27]
  • Beatus of Lorvão [L] written in 1189 in the monastery of St Mammas in Lorvão (Portugal); Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Lisbon.
  • Beatus of Las Huelgas. (Beatus of Liébana - Huelga Codex[28][29]). Circa 1220.[29] 90+ miniatures, kept at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.[29] M. 429[29][30] Produced in royal monastery of Las Huelgas, probably commissioned by the queen Berengaria of Castile, sister of Alfonso VIII.[29] (Not the Morgan Beatus, see above)
  • Arroyo Beatus Copied 1st half of the 13th century, c. 1220 in the region of Burgos, perhaps in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. Paris (Bibliothèque nationale) NAL 2290 and New York (Bernard H. Breslauer Collection).
  • Beatus of San Salvador de Távara. Ca. 968 / 970. Madrid. Archivo Historico Nacional. Ms 1097 B (1240). Painted by Magius, finished after his death by his pupil Emeterius.[31]

Not illustrated[edit]

  • Beatus of Alcobaça. ALC. 247 Not illustrated.
  • Beato ACA. Not Illustrated.
  • Beato de Sahagún. Fragments. Not illustrated.

Copied in South Italy[edit]

  • Genevan Beatus.[32] Kept at the Bibliothèque de Genève.[32] 'Ms. lat. 357.[9] Circa mid-to-late eleventh century.[9] Originated in South Italy, Beneventan region.[9] 97 Folios in 13 books.[9]
  • Berlin Beatus. (Beatus of Liébana, Berlin Codex[33]). (Beatus Commentary written in Carolingian script with Beneventan notations).[9] Kept in Staatsbibliothek, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.[33] Ms. theol. lat. fol. 561[9] 12th century.[33] 98 Folios[33] One of three Beatus manuscripts made outside Iberian Peninsula.[33]
  • Beneventan Beatus fragment.[34] Kept at Milan, Archivio di Stato Rubriche, Notarili 3823, fol. 2v.[9]

Copied in Southwestern France[edit]

  • Saint-Sever Beatus.[35] (Beatus of Saint-Sever[1][35]). Illustrated by Stephanus Garsia (and other unnamed). Kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.[35] C. 1038.[35] Alternate dates include 1060–1070. Ms. Lat. 8878.[35]


The Commentary on the Apocalypse strongly influenced the Guernica of Picasso.[36][37][38][39][40]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Eco, Umberto (2014). From the Tree to the Labyrinth. Harvard University Press. p. 252. ISBN 9780674728165.
  2. ^ a b c O'Neill, John P., ed. (2003). The Art of Medieval Spain. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 113.
  3. ^ In Apocalypsin. Ed. Florez, Madrid, 1770. The first known printed edition of the commentary. Latin.
  4. ^ Commentarius in Apocalypsin. (2 Vols.) Ed. E. Romero-Pose. Rome, 1985. The second critical edition of the commentary. Latin.
  5. ^ Tractatus in Apocalypsin. Ed. Gryson. (Vols. 107B and 107C, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina.) Brepols, 2012. The third critical edition of the commentary. Latin, with French introductory material. Also available in a French translation by Gryson, as part of the Sources Chretiennes series, but I've never seen it myself.
  6. ^ Beato de Liebana: Obras Completas y Complementarias, Vol. I. BAC, 2004. The commentary translated by Alberto del Campo Hernandez and Joaquin Gonzalez Echegaray. Side by side Spanish and Latin.
  7. ^ Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2012). Apocalypse: The Illustrated Book of Revelation. No exegesis, but extensive full colour images from five different versions of the Beatus and the Bamberg Apocalypse. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B008WAK9SS.
  8. ^ "Beato of Liébana: The Codex of Fernando I and Doña Sancha". World Digital Library. Retrieved 11 December 2016. Thirty-five manuscript copies dating from the ninth century to the 13th century have survived. By semantic extension, these manuscripts are called beato, and 26 of them are illuminated.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Dubuis, Paule Hochuli (2009). "Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. lat. 357". e-codices. Retrieved 13 December 2016. il en existerait actuellement 34 datés du IXe au XVIe siècle, complets ou fragmentaires, dont 26 sont illustrés (voir J. Williams).Le Commentaire de Beatus connut une grande diffusion et l'appellation Beatus désigne un manuscrit contenant ce texte; il en existerait actuellement 34 datés du IXe au XVIe siècle, complets ou fragmentaires, dont 26 sont illustrés (voir J. Williams). Ce manuscrit de Genève constituerait un 27e Beatus illustré. [Translation]: The Commentary of Beatus enjoyed great diffusion and naming Beatus means a manuscript containing the text; it currently exists 34 dated from the ninth to the sixteenth century, complete or fragmentary, 26 of which are illustrated (see J. Williams). This manuscript of Geneva would be a 27th Beatus shown.
  10. ^ a b c "Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016. It has been dated to the first half of 10th century, around 920–930 (W.Neuss); P.Klein set it between 925 and 935 and José Camón Aznar, at the end of 9th century. Other authors, however, date it later, considering their miniatures part of the “mature mozarab” style.
  11. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 157–159
  12. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 153–155
  13. ^ a b c "Beato de Tábara. Archivo Histórico Nacional". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  14. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 156–157
  15. ^ "Punto de interés 1.4. El Beatus". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  16. ^ a b "Beatos de la Biblioteca Nacional de España, Beato de Fernando I y doña Sancha". Ministerio de Educación, Cultura and Deporte. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  17. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 289–290
  18. ^ "Beato of Liébana: The Codex of Fernando I and Doña Sancha". World Digital Library (in Latin and Spanish). Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  19. ^ a b "Beatus of Liébana - Burgo de Osma Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  20. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 159–160
  21. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 291–292
  22. ^ a b c d "Beatus of Liébana - Navarra Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  23. ^ a b c d e f "Beatus of Liébana - Turin Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  24. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 303–304
  25. ^ "Beato de Liébana, códice del Monasterio de San Pedro de Cardeña, Burgos". M. Moleiro. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  26. ^ a b O'Neill, 2003, pages 300–302
  27. ^ "Ficha Completa - Inventario 1962/73/2". Museo Arqueológico Nacional. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  28. ^ The Morgan Museum and Library. "Apocalypse Then: Medieval Illuminations from the Morgan". Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  29. ^ a b c d e "Beatus of Liébana - Huelga Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  30. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 293–294
  31. ^ O'Neill, 2003, pages 155–156
  32. ^ a b Reynolds, Roger E (2012). "Apocalypses New: The Recently Discovered Beneventan Illustrated Beatus in Geneva in its South Italian Context". Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture. 3 (4). Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  33. ^ a b c d e "Illuminated Manuscripts, New Facsimiles, Beatus of Liébana, Berlin Codex: an uncommon Beatus manuscript". 8 April 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  34. ^ Dubuis, Paule Hochuli (2009). "Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. lat. 357". e-codices. pp. 39–40. Retrieved 13 December 2016. ... there is now hitherto unreported evidence that illustrated manuscripts of the Beatus Commentary written in Beneventan script were copied in southern Italy in the middle of the eleventh century. This evidence comes in a damaged fragment from an illustrated Beatus manuscript used to reinforce the binding of a volume of notarial records... Beneventan Beatus fragment in Milan binding (left), Milan, Archivio di Stato Rubriche Notarili 3823, fol. 2v
  35. ^ a b c d e "Beatus of Liébana - Saint-Sever Codex Facsimile Edition". Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  36. ^ "Nomination formInternational Memory of the World Register - The Manuscripts of the Commentary to the Apocalypse (Beatus of Liébana),in the Iberian Tradition" (PDF). UNESCO. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 3, 2016.
  37. ^ Martin, Therese (December 2018). "Espacios de mujeres —auténticos e imaginados— en los Beatos ilustrados". Arenal. Revista de historia de las mujeres (in Spanish and English). 25 (2). doi:10.30827/arenal.vol25.num2.357-396. ISSN 1134-6396. OCLC 7955162704.
  38. ^ "The Image of France in the Beatus Map of Saint-Sever". Space in the Medieval West: Places, Territories, and Imagined Geographies. Routledge. April 1, 2016. p. 159. ISBN 9781317052005. OCLC 1157058199.
  39. ^ James Attlee (October 5, 2017). Guernica: Painting the End of the World. The Landmark Library. Head of Zeus Ltd. p. 181. ISBN 9781786691439. OCLC 1006404989. (citing Klein, Peter K., The Saint-Sever Beatus and its influence on Picasso's Guernica, 2017)
  40. ^ Peter Weiss (June 22, 2005). The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I: A Novel. Vol. 1. Duke University Press. p. 349. ISBN 0822386941. OCLC 647586353.


  • O'Neill, John P., ed. (2003). The Art of Medieval Spain, 500–1200. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • The Illustrated Beatus: a corpus of the illustrations of the commentary on the Apocalypse by John Williams. 5 Volumes. Harvey Miller and Brepols, 1994, 1998, 2000. Art books attempting to document all the Beatus illustrations in all surviving manuscripts. Due to expense, most illustrations are reproduced in black and white. Unfortunately, Williams was uninterested in Beatus' text, and thus spread some misconceptions about it, but his art scholarship and tenacity are amazing. His books' influence on most of this Wikipedia article is strong.

Further reading[edit]

  • Commentarius in Apocalypsin. Ed. Henry A. Sanders. Papers and monographs of the American Academy in Rome 7 (Rome: American Academy in Rome, 1930). The first critical edition of the commentary. Latin.
  • Beati Liebanensis Tractatus de Apocalipsin. Ed. Roger Gryson. Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina 107 B-C (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012). Two volumes of a new, improved and up-to-date critical edition of the commentary's text. Latin and French.
  • Commentary on the Apocalypse - Part I. Trans. M.S. O'Brien. (2013). English translation of Books I and II. Includes many sources and quotes not noted in Gryson.

External links[edit]

Links to specific manuscripts[edit]