Commentary on the Apocalypse

Commentary on the Apocalypse
The 6th seal from the Morgan Beatus

Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria In Apocalypsin) was originally an eighth century work by the Spanish monk and theologian Beatus of Liébana. Today, it refers to any of the extant manuscript copies of this work, especially any of the 26 illuminated copies that have survived. It is often referred to simply as the Beatus. The historical significance of the Commentary is made even more pronounced since it included a world map, which offers a rare insight into the geographical understanding of the post-Roman world. Well-known copies include the Morgan, the Saint-Sever, the Gerona, the Osma and the Madrid (Vitr 14-1) Beatus codices.

Considered together, the Beatus codices are among the most important Spanish medieval manuscripts and have been the subject of extensive scholarly and antiquarian enquiry.


The Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria In Apocalypsin)

It is a work of erudition but without great originality, made up principally of compilations. Beatus includes long extracts from the texts of the Fathers of the Church and Doctors of the Church, especially Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine), Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose), Irenaeus of Lyons (Saint Irenaeus), and Isidore of Seville (Saint Isidore). He adds to this the commentary on the Book of Daniel by Jerome of Stridon (Saint Jerome).

The Apocalypse and its origins

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

The Book of Revelation, also known as The Revelation or Apocalypse of St John, was written in the last part of the 1st century AD, probably during the persecution of Christians carried out under either the Roman emperor Nero or Domitian. The concept of the Apocalypse, finds roots in the later books of the Old Testament, most notably from the Book of Daniel, and the Prophets as they speak of the Day of the Lord. Thus Revelation has a conceptual and contextual basis in prior Jewish literature.[citation needed]

The Revelation is apocalyptic literature, a vision of the future revealed to a person, written in a poetic prose encrypted in symbols and riddles. Thus Revelation is commonly interpreted as a prophecy concerning the end of the world and last things. The Book of Revelation is also seen as a 'gospel of hope' since it tells the martyred masses that their past suffering on Earth has led them to eternal bliss.[citation needed]

The message

After 711 AD, Spanish Christians found themselves being persecuted by Muslims. They could no longer practice their religion openly; bells and processions were forbidden; churches and monasteries were destroyed and were unable to be reconstructed; persecutions often lead to bloody outcomes. The Apocalypse became a support for the Christian resistance. The symbolism in it took on a whole new meaning for them. The beast, which had previously been believed to represent the Roman Empire, now became the Califate, and Babylon was no longer Rome, but Córdoba. The Apocalypse, which before had been interpreted as a prophecy of the end of roman persecution, became the cry for Reconquista and a promise of deliverance and punishment. This naturally appealed to the believing masses and ended up being, at least in occupied Spain, more important to them than the Gospels.

Copies of the manuscript

Principal copies

The more notable among the 31 Beatus manuscripts are :

  • The Nájera fragment. 9th century. Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos.
  • Beatus of the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. Ca. 930. Madrid. Real Academia de la Historia. Ms. 33.
  • Beatus of San Millán. Ca. 950 / 955. The Escorial. Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo. Ms. & II. 5. 225 x 355 mm. 151 leaves; 52 miniatures.
  • Beatus of San Miguel de Escalada. Ca. 960. Pierpont Morgan Library (New York). Ms 644. 280 x 380 mm. 89 miniatures, painted by Magius, archipictor.
  • Beatus of San Salvador de Távara. Ca. 968 / 970. Madrid. Archivo Historico Nacional. Ms 1097 B (1240). Painted by Magius, finished after his death by his pupil Emeterius.
  • Beatus of Valcavado. Ca. 970. Valladolid. Biblioteca de la Universidad. Ms. 433 (ex ms 390). 97 miniatures extant. Painted by Oveco for the abbot Semporius.
  • Beatus of Rioja or León. Ca. 975. Cathedral of La Seu d'Urgell. Archives. Ms. 26. 90 miniatures.
  • Beatus of Távara. Ca. 975. Cathedral of Girona. Archives. Ms. 7. 260 x 400 mm. 280 leaves. 160 miniatures. Painted by Emeterius (pupil of Magius) and by the nun Ende.
  • Beatus of San Millán. 2nd third of the 10th century. Madrid. Biblioteca Nacional. Ms. Vit. 14.1.
  • Beatus of León. 1047. Madrid. Biblioteca Nacional. Ms. Vit. 14.2. Made for Ferdinand I and Queen Sancha. 267 x 361 mm. 312 leaves. 98 miniatures. Painted by Facundus.
  • Beatus. 1086. Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma. Archives. Cod. 1. 225 x 360 mm. 166 leaves. 71 miniatures. Scribe: Petrus. Painter: Martinus.
  • Beatus of Saint-Sever (Landes). 1060 / 1070. Paris. Bibliothèque nationale. Ms. Lat. 8878.
  • Beatus of Santo Domingo de Silos. 1091 / 1109. London. British Library. Ms. Add. 11695.

Later copies

  • Rylands Beatus [R]: Manchester, John Rylands Library Latin MS 8), ca. 1175,
  • Cardeña Beatus [Pc]: ca. 1180 and is dispersd between collections in Madrid (Museo Arqueológico Nacional and Colección Francisco de Zabálburu y Basabe), New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Girona (Museu d’Art de Girona).
  • Beatus of Lorvão [L] written in 1189 in the monastery of St Mammas in Lorvão (Portugal); Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Lisbon.
  • Arroyo Beatus [Ar] written in the 1st half of the 13th century in the region of Burgos, perhaps in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. Paris (Bibliothèque nationale) and New York (Bernard H. Breslauer Collection).


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