In a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books.
Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript.
John Williams, author of The Illustrated Beatus, introduces Beatus of Liébana and his Commentary on the Apocalypse.
The Vision of the Lamb (Apoc. 4: 6 – V: 6-8), in Maius’ Morgana Beatus, Pierpont Morgan Library M644, fol. 87r
Towards the end of the eighth century Beatus, a monk in the monastery of San Martin de Turieno, near present day Santander, compiled a Commentary on the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, from the writings dedicated to the topic by such patristic authors as Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Irenaeus.
Recognition of Beatus of Liébana has survived to our time thanks to his decision to illustrate the sixty-eight sections into which he divided the text of the Book of Revelation.
It was a decision that could not easily have been anticipated, for it is not at all clear that Beatus had ever seen an illustrated book, and it is almost certain these illustrations were invented by him or an assistant.
The pictures would remain integral to the many – some twenty-six – copies of the Commentary that have survived.
And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit (Apoc:9 – V:1-11) – in the Beatus de Facunda.