Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana (730–785): An Example of the Mozarabic Style

I am so happy to have discovered Commentaria In Apocalypsin or Commentary on the Apocalypse—a book by monk, theologian and geographer Beatus of Liébana (c. 730 – c. 800), who was born and died in the former Duchy of CantabriaKingdom of Asturias, in modern Cantabria, northern Spain.

As the title suggests, the Commentaria is a reflection on the Book of Revelation. It was copied and illustrated in manuscript form in works called “Beati” during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Beatus codices are fine examples of Mozarabic art—that is, art of the Mozarabs (from musta’rab meaning “Arabised”). According to Wikipedia:

The Mozarabs were Iberian Christians living in Al-Andalus, the Muslim conquered territories in the period that comprises from the Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula (711) to the end of the 11th century, adopted some Arab customs without converting to Islam, preserving their religion and some ecclesiastical and judicial autonomy.

A Companion to the Premodern Apocalypse edited by Michael A. Ryan (Brill, 2016)

A good explanation for the illustrated manuscripts is provided in the book A Companion to the Premodern Apocalypse edited by Michael A. Ryan (Associate Professor of medieval and early modern history at the University of New Mexico). In an essay titled “The Western Apocalypse Commentary Tradition of the Early Middle Ages”, Kevin Poole, formerly assistant professor of Spanish and Medieval Studies at Yale University and now ‎Associate Professor of Humanities at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, writes:

Following Augustine’s teaching of the three levels of spiritual understanding – visio corporealis, visio spiritualis, and visio intellectualis – the illustrated Beatus commentary provides a tool for contemplation, not just reading, of the revelatory text…For the monks who read the Beatus commentaries, contemplation involved the active development of the cognition of truth, the end goal being the beatific vision of God. They read scriptures, memorized the words of the Fathers, and formulated mental images of those words in order to reach the level of spiritual intellect – visio intellectualis – at which they understood the reason for their existence, the fullness of Glory in Paradise. We must remember that, for the medieval monk and preacher, the church and its monasteries represent Heaven on earth. The illustrated Beatus commentary, more than a book of prophecy or of anti-heretical teachings, represents visually for the reader that otium quietis that will come after Judgement and toward which all of the faithful strive.


…the Apocalypse commentary tradition from the beginning years of Christianity to the end of the Early Middle Ages evolved not only as a literary genre but also as a political and religious voice against the opponents of orthodoxy…As a political, doctrinal, and spiritual text, the Apocalypse commentary stood ready to face the year 1000, the political and religious turmoil that would take place in the middle years of the 11th century, and crusading efforts intent on establishing a new Jerusalem in the centuries following 1095 [1095 is the year when the First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II].

Take a look at some of the pages—

Osma Beatus, f. 139: The Frogs, “Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet” (Revelation 16:13), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

The 6th seal from the Morgan Beatus, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

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

Escorial Beatus, f. 108v: Worship of the Beast and Dragon, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f. 6v: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation, 1.8), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f°43v: The Great Theophany, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f°135: The Four Horsemen, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f°145: The Elect and the Angels restraining the Winds, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f°171v: The Monstrous Beasts, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f. 186v: ‘”And there appeared a great wonder in Heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in Heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (Revelation, 12.1-3), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f. 191v: The Dragon gives his power to the Beast, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Osma Beatus, f. 151: The Victorious Christ, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f°253v: The New Jerusalem, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f. 240: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called «Faithful» and «True», and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation, 19.11-13), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, f. 224 (detail): “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication, and upon her forehead a name written: «Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of earth.»” (Revelation, 17.4-5), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Facundus Beatus, page 410: Adoration of the Mystical Lamb on Mount Zion: A lamb stood on the Mount Zion and to one-hundred-forty-four thousand, having cytharas, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Urgell Beatus, f. 82v: Noah’s Ark, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Urgell Beatus, f. 209 (detail): Siege of Jerusalem by Nebudchadnezzar, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Beatus de Valladolid, f°93: The Four Horsemen, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Valladolid Beatus, f. 120: The Angel of the Fifth Trumpet: “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit” (Revelation, 9.1), Wikipedia [Public Domain]