Fifteen Signs before Doomsday

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The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (alternatively known as the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday, Fifteen Signs before Judgement, and – in Latin – Quindecim Signa ante Judicium) is a list, popular in the Middle Ages because of millenarianism, of the events that are supposed to occur in the fortnight before the end of the world.[1] It may find an origin in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Thomas[2] and is found in many post-millennial manuscripts in Latin and in the vernacular. References to it occur in a great multitude and variety of literary works, and via the Cursor Mundi it may have found its way even into the early modern period, in the works of William Shakespeare[citation needed].


The Fifteen Signs derives from the Apocalypse of Thomas, an apocryphal apocalyptic text composed in Greek (and subsequently translated in Latin) between the second and fourth century. It exists in two versions, the second, longer one treating fifth-century events as contemporary. The first version includes a list of seven signs announcing the end of the world. The longer version, however, has an appended section which brings the list of signs up to fifteen. This version was taken up and reshaped by Irish, after which it became a source for many European visions of the end of days.[3]

Remaining versions[edit]

One of its many versions can be found in the Asega-bôk.[4] Another version can be found in the Saltair na Rann.[citation needed] One of the earliest versions is De quindecim signis (PL XCIV.555) written in the 8th century by Pseudo-Bede.



The Fifteen Signs are organized in three general types: the Voragine type, the Pseudo-Bede type, and the Comestor type. The Welsh prose versions edited by William Heist are each based on any of the three;[6][clarification needed] the Asega-bôk is based on both Pseudo-Bede and Comestor's Historia scholastica.[7]


The fifteen signs are shown over fifteen days, though in many different varieties. According to the Welsh prose version:[6][clarification needed]

  1. The earth's waters rise above the mountains
  2. The waters sink so low they cannot be seen anymore
  3. The waters return to their original position
  4. All sea animals gather on the surface and bellow unintelligibly
  5. The waters burn from east to west
  6. Plants and trees fill with dew and blood
  7. Earth is divided into two parts
  8. All buildings are destroyed
  9. The stones fight each other
  10. Great earthquakes occur
  11. All mountains and valleys are leveled to a plain
  12. Men come out from their hiding places but can no longer understand each other
  13. The stars and constellations fall out of the sky (in the Comestor variant only stars fall[8][clarification needed])
  14. The bones of the dead come out of their graves
  15. All men die, the earth burns
  16. Judgment Day


References to the fifteen signs are ubiquitous in medieval Western literature. In the fifteenth century, prints detailing the life of the Antichrist usually included the fifteen signs.[9] An Anglo-Norman version was included in the fourteenth-century Cursor Mundi, and C. H. Conley argued that William Shakespeare used a reading knowledge of that poem or one like it for various details in Act 1 of Hamlet and Act 2 of Julius Caesar, details he couldn't have found in Holinshed's Chronicles.[10] Harry Morris contends that those details could have come to Shakespeare via John Daye's A Book of Christian Prayer (1578) or the Holkham Bible (14th century).[11] The signs also occur in the shearmen's Prophets of Antichrist, part of the fifteenth-century Chester Mystery Plays.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Giliberto 2007, p. 129.
  2. ^ Dunn 1958, p. 189.
  3. ^ Gatch 1964, p. 380.
  4. ^ Giliberto 2007, p. 130.
  5. ^ Baker 1897, p. 63.
  6. ^ a b Heist 1948, p. 421.
  7. ^ Giliberto 2007, p. 130–131.
  8. ^ Heist 1948, p. 424.
  9. ^ Emmerson & Herzman 1980, p. 376.
  10. ^ Conley 1915, p. 41.
  11. ^ Morris 1985.
  12. ^ Clopper 1978, p. 230.

Reference bibliography[edit]

  • Baker, A. T. (1897). "Fifteen Signs of Doomsday". Modern Language Quarterly. 1 (2): 63–64. JSTOR 41163389.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Clopper, Lawrence M. (1978). "The History and Development of the Chester Cycle". Modern Philology. 75 (s): 219–46. doi:10.1086/390788. JSTOR 436982.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Conley, C. H. (1915). "An Instance of the Fifteen Signs of Judgment in Shakespeare". Modern Language Notes. 30 (2): 41–44. JSTOR 2916899.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Dunn, Charles W. (1958). "Rev. of Heist, The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday". The Journal of American Folklore. 71 (280): 189. JSTOR 537713.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Emmerson, Richard Kenneth; Herzman, Ronald B. (1980). "Antichrist, Simon Magus, and Dante's Inferno XIX". Traditio. 36: 373–98. JSTOR 27831081.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Gatch, Milton McCormick (1964). "Two Uses of Apocrypha in Old English Homilies". Church History. 33 (4): 379–91. doi:10.2307/3162832. JSTOR 3162832.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Giliberto, Concetta (2007). "The Fifteen Signs of Doomsday of the First Riustring Manuscript". In Bremmer, Rolf Hendrik; Laker, Stephen; Vries, Oebele (eds.). Advances in Old Frisian Philology. Rige Estrikken. 80. Rodopi. ISBN 9789042021815.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Morris, Harry (1985). Last Things in Shakespeare. Tallahassee: Florida State UP.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]