Over on one of my favorite sites, io9.com, I read this article: Why are there spaceships in Medieval art? Below is the actual fresco from the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo that the article references. Take a look in the upper right and left-hand corners. This is one of the paintings that often gets cited when people talk about UFOs in medieval art.
OK, let me just say, I don’t believe in UFOs. Sure, I’ve seen one. One night back in the early 80s or late 70s (it’s a bit hazy), my friend and I were camping out in the backyard. We both experienced a rocket-shaped object that flew across the sky, and halfway across, executed a sharp 90 degree turn and took off past the horizon. Since an airplane doesn’t fly like that, the only explanation could have been an oddly shaped, highly maneuverable weather balloon, or more likely, escaping swamp gas from the trailer park on the old highway, not a UFO.
I don’t really think spaceships in medieval art has to do with UFO sitings, anyway. Why then would a medieval painter, commissioned by the church to create a fresco for a local monastery, sneak in a few spaceships? The simple answer: There wasn’t a huge market for science fiction yet. No TV, movies, Xbox games, or mass-produced books – except the Bible, of course. Even paintings weren’t readily available to the people (let alone affordable) unless you wore a crown or some vestments. In other words, the only entertainment medium available to the average peasant was likely hand-produced by a monk in Latin or hung on the church wall.
We know there was a rich oral tradition among the people in the Middle Ages. Remember the bards and the troubadours? I’m sure some of those tales could have been labeled science fiction for the standards of their day. Why then should some imaginative Celt or lyrical Occitanian have all the fun? What would Ralph McQuarrie have painted on the wall of a church if he’d been born in the Middle Ages? I can almost imagine the conversation now…
Father Persecucio: What are these heretical shapes you’ve painted in the sky?
Ralph di Cuore: Why those are just shooting stars. You know, the ones you see at night.
Father Persecucio: Why, my son, are there people inside of these falling stars?
Ralph di Cuore: Oh, those are angels. It’s symbolic, of course. You like symbolism, right?
Father Persecucio: Yes, of course, it does tend to keep people from understanding the truth. But why is one angel chasing the other?
Ralph di Cuore: It’s the whole good vs. evil theme, you know. It works well with religion.
Father Persecucio: Ah, well, I guess we’ll have to find someone else to throw in that vat of boiling oil then.
For some odd reason, I feel like watching The Fountain now.