Medieval art can sometimes surprise you, with its rich colors and expressive subjects. But sometimes, you're also caught off guard by the shock of noticing the presence of a guy in a spaceship in a painting of the crucifixion. Find out why there are so many UFOs in paintings from hundreds of years ago.
So, you are wandering around the streets of Metohia, Yugoslavia, as one does, and decide to spend some time in the Visoki Decani Monastery. You take in the atmosphere slowly, looking at the thickness of the walls — built in 1330 and still standing — and the wooden sarcophagus of King Stefan. And gradually you come up to the altar, looking at the fresco above it. Reading the informational sign next to it, you see that it was completed in 1350, which, you think, is fine, but could someone explain to you why someone in 1350 was doodling space ships above the scene of the crucifixion?
To the left of Jesus, in the sky, is something that looks like a comet with a multifaceted trail behind it. One side, though, is transparent, and inside sits a small figure. In the sky on the far right of the painting is something that wouldn't look out of place in a drawing from the height of the 1960s space age. There's a rounded ship with a pointed nose cone in front, a transparent scooped window for a cockpit, and three turrets in the back that look like landing struts. The shape and aesthetic are so familiar that it's impossible to read as anything other than a spaceship.
That example is what people first point to when they talk about UFOs in medieval art, but it's not the only thing they point to. In other artwork there are golden disks shooting down lights that look like tractor beams onto the faithful. There are random ovals, with what look like wires coming out of them, over the shoulder of the Virgin Mary while she's holding the baby Jesus. There are disks in the sky in some paintings and what look like crude pictures of the flying saucer in the "I Want To Believe" poster above people's heads in others.
But the space ship in the Decani fresco is the most obvious picture of what we would think of as a spaceship. What are they?
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