Medievalist: The Fire Stone (Lapides igniferi) featured prominently in medieval bestiaries. The stone was believed to be either male or female and entirely inactive when kept in isolation of its opposing gender. However, when a male and female stone were placed next to one another they burst into flames and started a fire that destroyed everything in its proximity. These stones were seen as an allegory of male and female relationships. While kept separate the two genders were perfectly safe. The destructive nature of the fire stones when placed together showed the dangers of interactions between the two sexes with the fire representing the all consuming nature of human lust which was the inevitable consequence of associating with the opposite sex. This interpretation of the fire stone can be seen in the Aberdeen Bestiary (c.1200):
"On a certain mountain in the east, there are fire-bearing stones which are called in Greek terrobolem; they are male and female. When they are far from each other, the fire within them does not ignite. But when by chance the female draws near to the male, the fire is at once kindled, with the result that everything around the mountain burns. For this reason, men of God, you who follow this way of life, stay well clear of women, lest when you and they approach each other, the twin flame be kindled in you both and consume the good that Christ has bestowed upon you. For there are angels of Satan, always on the offensive against the righteous; not only holy men but chaste women too."
St John’s College (Cambridge) Library, A.15, Folio 103v
Medievalist: Continuing with this summer’s Spanish theme let us turn to the most important and prolific medieval Spanish manuscript, Commentary on the Apocalypse by the Spanish theologian Beatus of Liébana. Today the manuscript and its surviving copies are collectively known as the Beatus manuscripts. The text was written c. 775 AD in the monastery of St Martin in Liébana in the north of Spain. The text is a commentary of the last book of the Christian Bible The Book of Revelations more commonly known as the Apocalypse. The book features the mystical vision of Saint John the Divine who foretold the end of the world. Alongside the exegesis the manuscript includes an elaborate set of images, one hundred and eight in total sixty eight of which depict the Apocalypse.
While illuminated exegesis of the Book of Revelation feature in medieval Northern Europe, the style and iconography of the Beatus manuscripts distinguish them from their Northern European counterparts. The illuminations are noted for the vibrant colours, geometric composition and multiple viewpoints which defined Mozarabic tradition of the Spanish Christians who lived under Arabic rule. An examination of the following page from the 10th century Morgan Beatus perfectly illustrates this style. The folio (112) depicts the opening of the Sixth Seal as described in Revelation 6:12:
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood"
The background is divided into four brightly coloured diagonals. This division of the page is typical of the Beatus manuscripts and the mystical nature of the images reflects the enigmatic nature of the text.