The book and the Antichrist: Im Diesseits das Jenseits bereiten: Eschatologie, Laienbildung und Zeitkritik bei den mittelniederländischen Autoren Jan von Boendale, Lodewijk van Velthem und Jan van Leeuwen

It has taken a while, but I am happy to announce that finally my thesis has been published by Göttingen University Press (Universitätsverlag Göttingen). The book has come out simultaneously in paperback and as online version (in Open Access, which has been a must for me).

I am yet to write a blog post about the hardships of getting the thesis ready for print, which would have never happened without the positive encouragement from friends, colleagues, and last but not least the publisher, but today I would like to say a few words about the cover picture.

antichrist

The circumcision of the Antichrist (Antichristfenster: süd II 1c, Marienkirche, Frankfurt/Oder, Chorhaupt)

People seem to be rather shocked when they first have a closer look at the cover picture. A common remark is that it is rather cruel (which I have to admit is true) and the next question is mostly whether this is Christ. Actually it is not Christ, but the Antichrist. The cover picture shows the circumcision of the Antichrist and has been taken at the Marienkirche (St. Mary Church) at Frankfurt (Oder) where a true rarity, a medieval stained glass window picturing the whole life of the Antichrist, can be found. The cover picture is part of this pictoral program.

In the scene on the cover picture we see on the left a priest, on the right the mother of the Antichrist and at the bottom a little red devil looking with glee at the baby Antichrist in the middle who is just about being circumcised by the priest with a giant pair of scissors.

How do we actually know that the baby is the Antichrist (and not the little red devil)? First of all it is important to realize that in the Middle Ages people were convinced that the Antichrist will be a human and therefore look like any other “normal” human (which makes it so difficult to recognize him) and that his life will mirror the life of Christ. Thus, just like Christ, the Antichrist will be circumcised and he will have messianic traits, but only the Jews will (wrongly) accept him as their Messiah. The devil and the Antichrist are different enemies of Christianity. Whereas devils have existed since Lucifer’s fall and will continue to exist until eternity, the Antichrist will appear before Judgement Day because he is one of the signs of the End and he will die before it. Another clue is the cross in the baby’s halo. It is a T-cross (cross of Tau) which was considered in the Middle Ages as one of the signs of the Antichrist (Mangelsdorf 2007, p. 107). Also the presence of the devil indicates that something “wrong” is going on in this scene. Almost all scenes of this Antichrist-window in which the Antichrist is present also contain one or several devils, but not the ones in which the Antichrist is not present (like the scene dedicated to the motif of the Last Emperor).

This short explanation brings me back to the title of my book, which may be translated as: “Preparing in the present life for the Hereafter”. For medieval Christians it was important to recognize the signs of the End. Being able to identify the Antichrist who will appear to announce the End was a significant part of this knowledge. But medieval eschatology was much more than apocalypticism. It was considered even more important to always live ones life in such a way that one has never to fear the divine judgment because Judgement Day can take place at any time. Therefore, moral and ethical guidelines play an important role in the eschatological parts of the vernacular Dutch texts that I have studied for this book.

Further reading

There is an enormous amount of literature about medieval apocalypticism and eschatology. Many of them I have consulted for my book, so a good starting point is actually the chapter “Apokalyptik – Eschatologie – apokalyptische Eschatologie?” and the bibliography.

About the Antichrist window at the Marienkirche, its history, meaning, and eventful fate in modern times as looted art and that is truly worth visiting:

  • Mangelsdorf, Frank (ed.). Der gläserne Schatz: Die Bilderbibel der St. Marienkirche in Frankfurt (Oder), Berlin, 2007.
  • Knefelkamp, Ulrich & Frank Martin. Der Antichrist: Die Glasmalereien der Marienkirche in Frankfurt (Oder). Leipzig, 2008.

If you wish to buy the book in print or to scrutinize the online version, you may find means to access it on the website of the publisher: http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?univerlag-isbn-978-3-86395-274-7.

Suggestions and comments on this blog entry as well as on my book are warmly welcome below!

Book Abstract

This study reveals that in medieval Dutch vernacular texts (from the Brabantine authors Jan van Boendale, Lodewijk van Velthem, and Jan van Leeuwen, and in the anonymous Boek van Sidrac) the treatment of individual and universal eschatological topics and themes, such as death, heaven, hell, purgatory, the Antichrist, eschatological people, and Judgement Day is dedicated to moral and ethical guidance to prepare oneself during lifetime for the afterlife. Central to all texts is the fate of the souls in the afterlife and guidelines to assure redemption on Judgment Day. This includes the ability to recognize the signs of the End properly. The vernacular eschatological discourse is considered as an inherent part of the intellectual emancipation of the laity in the later Middle Ages. This book is of interest not only to Dutch and German philologists, but also to historians and anyone interested in the history of religion, especially of eschatology and apocalypticism.

This study was awarded with the 2013 Mgr. C. de Clercqprijs of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten (Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts) for an outstanding work in the field ‘History of Religions of Flanders’.

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