3.2.2. Popular manifestations around the year 1000
The fundamental problems of the generation of the year 1000 were the lack of information and the extremely precarious understanding of the Universe. Rodulphus Glaber’s notes show that history served no other purpose than to boost the meditation of the believers, to increase their vigilance and to emphasize the warnings that God sends to his creatures through miracles and prophecies:
But since the nation of men multiplied, ... the divine decisions of his good Creator displayed for him amazing miracles in things, extraordinary prophecies in elements and also, in the mouth of the wisest, the prophecies destined to instill, on the divine path, at the same time, hope and fear. ... The closer the end of the world, the more we see multiplying the things that people talk about.178
God’s miraculous intervention in history and in everyday life was the driving force of the medieval religious life. The medieval people did not believe in hazard; unusual events could not simply happen. They were always seen as manifestations of the all-powerful divine will. Driven by the belief that time flows according to a precisely established order, people were terrified by temporal coincidences. In the year 992 the Black Friday and the Annunciation coincided on the 22nd of March, a coincidence that for a long time was thought to mark the advent of the Antichrist. Bernard of Thuringia, a fanatical hermit, spread the word that the end was near because close to this date a solar eclipse occurred. Some were so scared that they fled into caves and into the mountains.179 Other monks in the region of Lotharingia said that the end would come in 970, when more biblical events of crucial importance coincided on the same calendar date: Friday on the 25th of March – when Adam was created, Isaac was sacrificed, the Red Sea was crossed by the Israelites, Christ incarnated, Christ was crucified and, it was believed, Michael the Archangel would kill the Beast. The date of the 25th of March continued to cause fear until the 14th century, becoming a sort of vortex of universal time. When the coincidence occurred again in 1065, the bishop of Bamberg led a great pilgrimage to Jerusalem, fearing that the day in question would bring Final Judgment.180
In 970 the French monk Abbo of Fleury wrote about miracles and signs that had created panic in Anjou:
In this year, on the 12th of May, in the most part of this kingdom, in almost all villages in which there are churches, a heavenly fire without wind and without storm, which injured no men and no animals, fell and in certain places demons in the shape of wolfs, imitating wild goats bleating, appeared and are heard in the middle of the night.181
Later, in 996, in a letter addressed to King Robert, Abbo reminds of an event from his youth that can be dated around the year 975:
Also, regarding the end of the world, as an adolescent I heard a sermon preached before the populace in the church at Paris: the Antichrist should arrive straight-way, with the number of one thousand years having been completed, and the universal judgment should follow not long after that time. I resisted this prophecy, to the extent that I was able, from the Gospels and the Apocalypse and the Book of Daniel. Then my abbot, Richard of blessed memory, with a keen mind warden off an error that arose regarding the end of the world. After that, he ordered me to respond to a letter that he received from the Lotharingians; for the rumor had filled nearly the whole world that when the Annunciation fell upon Good Friday, it would without doubt be the end of the world.182
A letter from 980, sent by the bishop of Auxerre to the bishop of Verdun, describes the reaction of the masses at the expansion of the people from the north and the Magyars, believed to be Gog and Magog: “For they say that this is the last time of the age, and the end of the world is near, and therefore the Hungarians are Gog and Magog. Never were they heard of before; but now, behold, it is the end of time, and they have materialized.”183
In Britain, one of the Blickling Homilies, the largest collection of anonymous Anglo-Saxon homilies written in Old English, said that in the year 971 the 1,000 years were almost complete, and almost all the signs of Judgment Day were fulfilled. From 990 until 1010 the homilies of Aelfric and Wulfstan made explicit references to the year 1000, the unleashing of the Beast and Final Judgment.184
Celestial phenomena were the traditional markers of the religious turning points; accordingly, they had the greatest impact upon people. In 968 the soldiers of Otto I panicked at the sight of a solar eclipse, while the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux wrote:
In the one-thousandth year of Jesus Christ, according to the computation of Dionysius, many prodigies were seen. There was an extremely great earthquake, and comets appeared. On the 14th of December, at around the ninth hour, what seemed to be a burning torch, with a long trail like a flash of lighting, fell to the earth from a fissure in the heavens with such splendor that not only those who were in the fields but also those indoors were struck by the light which burst forth. While this fissure in heaven was gradually vanishing, there was meanwhile seen a figure like a dragon, with a growing head and dark blue feet.185
In August 989 Halley’s Comet appeared for a couple of weeks, spreading panic and awe among the faithful.186 But it is hard to say if the scribes of the time made the difference between comets and shooting stars (the impact of meteorites with the atmosphere). What is known for sure is that celestial appearances were usually seen as companions of extraordinary mundane phenomena: earthquakes, eruptions, floods, fires. In fact, if we take into consideration the writings of a Lotharingian monk, unusual phenomena of any kind were expected to happen especially on the occasion of major celebrations: ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)
You might also be interested in:
In 954 Adson, abbot of Montier-en-Der, concluded Libellus de Antichristo, a work addressed in particular to the queen of West Francia and in general to all who were concerned with the issue of the end of the world. Adson advised his contemporaries to calm and peace because, from his point of view, the end was far: the prophecy of the messianic emperor had not been yet fulfilled, the Jewish Antichrist had to be preceded by many other antichrists...
While the Papacy was busy demonizing Islam and the kings struggled to raise armies and money to confront the forces of evil near Jerusalem, a new type of apocalyptic manifestations erupted among the masses. This type of apocalypticism was a novelty because it did not target groups outside Christendom, but the church itself, the institution meant to represent God. The growing number of heresies, the growing interest in magic, astrology...
The conflict between the decadent Papacy of Avignon and the German emperor, the Hundred Years’ War, the famine and the plague, the beginning of the Inquisition, the fall of the Knights Templar and the insatiable greed of the clergy shattered the faith of the masses. Spirituality and the salvation of man became an acute problem; and where religious dogmas became unsatisfactory, dissident movements rose to preach an alternative point of view. While the prelates...