Saturday, March 7, 2009

UFOs in the past ? About two fakes spreading around the Internet....

The subject of UFO visitations in the past has engendered quite a bunch of speculations and has a literature of its own. Jumping on this train, multiple web sites on the internet do also provide their candid visitor with catalogs of some of the most bizarre and intriguing accounts made by our predecessors.

To our delight, these sites which more often than not copy and paste one another ad nauseum without any real scholarly research, brandish a few supposedly genuine images which are meant to illustrate their point.
We shall here examine two of these illustrations which are unfortunately very widespread all over the network.

The first of them is supposed to illustrate the apparition of a UFO during the siege of the castle of "Sigisburg" (in fact Syburg) by an army of Saxons in 776 A.D. Most of the sites attribute this illustration to "a 12th century manuscript, the Annales Laurissenses, written by a monk named Laurence" :

This is not a completely wrong claim, if we except the monk Laurence part which is the result of a misunderstanding of the name of the Annals and the date which is the date of the manuscript we know them from but not of the Annals themselves (Annals were often continued over multiple centuries by multiple authors: the Annales Laurissenses which are part of the Royal Frankish Annals, Annales Regni Francorum, extends from 741 to 829).
The Annales Laurissenses indeed contain an entry for the year 776 which reads as such:
[776] [...] and the same day, while they [the Saxons] were preparing for another assault against the Christians who were living in the castle, the glory of God manifested itself above the church inside the fortress. Those who were watching in the square outside - many of which still live today - said that they saw something resembling two large flaming shields of reddish color moving above the church itself. [...] (Annales Laurissenses Maiores, in MGH SRG 6, p. 44).
So the fact that a celestial phenomenon happened in 776 A.D. during the siege of the castle of Syburg is well established by the Annales Laurissenses. Now, what about the illustrations which we can find all over the internet? Can these possibly be some miniatures from a 12th century copy of the Annals as the sites claim?

It doesn't take a medievalist to see that the illustrations are too crude to be medieval miniatures. Their style does not match 12th century ones and they don't even look like book miniatures, more like color-sprayed frescoes. This is already highly suspicious but let's pretend they are genuine and do some research on the indications the web sites have given us.

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. A fac-simile of the manuscript has been published by Karl Glöckner in between the years 1929-1936. The 1963 reprint of this fac-simile has recently been put online on the ALO site.

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.

Hopefully, I was given the solution to my perplexity by Daniel Guenther, fellow researcher in the field, who pointed the following 13th century Spanish fresco to me. The fresco depicts the journey of the three magi on their way to Bethleem:

As we can see, the comparison speaks for itself as both illustrations are very similar. Except of course for the star of Bethleem which has been facetiously replaced by a most representative spacecraft from outer space. As a result, this illustration should now be dismissed as a modern fake. My plea in this direction to the web sites propagating the image have still remained unanswered. This kind of sites like to claim that "the horrible truth disturbs the establishment". Well, in that case at least, the truth apparently disturbs them...

But let's move on to our second illustration. This one has been labeled "842 Angers" by an unknown Photoshopic hand and is supposed, as the label says, to illustrate the apparition of a celestial phenomenon over the city of Angers in 842 A.D. At least that's how most web sites present it :

As for the Syburg image, a quick look at the illustration already brings some suspicion about its supposed date. This one looks evidently more genuine but is more than reminiscent of the woodcut illustrations that were printed in 16th and 17th century leaflets, especially the ones printed in Germany. A rapid check in this direction allowed me to find the following document which I invite you to compare with the one above :

With the exception of the coloration, both illustrations are absolutely identical, except that the one above depicts the apparition of a comet over the city of Nuremberg in October 1580 and has no relation whatsoever with Angers nor with a mid-9th century date.

The German leaflet which was printed in Nuremberg by Hans Mack is well referenced and copies of it are held by two German libraries, one in Nuremberg (GM. 2806/1204) and one in Berlin (D-4 14-8).

As most similar leaflets it is known and referred to by its title: Erinnerung und Warnung / von dem jetzt scheinenden Cometen / so im disem Monat Octobris / dess jetzt lauffenden 80. Jars / erstmals erschienen. For some unknown reason, this document, which is an interesting piece in itself, has been reused and falsely relocated in terms of time and place from Nuremberg 1580 to Angers 842.

Apart from showing how erroneous information can easily spread on the internet, these two cases illustrate the fact that many self-proclaimed researchers and proponents of the idea of UFO visitation in the past do not make the necessary verifications to the documents they use. And that's without even speaking about competences in the historical field...


BaT.TereDCakeS said...

Really great post! I would have never noticed those details you pointed out about the shield paintings. Can you tell me who painted the red fresco of the three magi and the title, if you know?

Yannis Deliyannis said...

Greetings and thanks for the appreciation. The painter is, as far as I know, an anonymous 13th century Catalan artist. The three Magi are however a detail from a larger altar painted wooden piece with stucco reliefs known as the "Altar de Mosoll" and can be seen on display in Barcelona in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya.

BaT.TereDCakeS said...

Thank you so much for replying! That's the information I needed! And again, amazing article. :] I found the picture in the musuem website: Here
just in case you wanted to link to it for others to see.

Yannis Deliyannis said...

Thank you for your interest and for the link, readers might indeed find it useful.

Anonymous said...

et pourtant c'est bien la ville d'Angers qui est représentée sur cette gravure...même les tours qui furent plus tard décapitées sont "correctes"...