1516 CE - This was the year the fifth Lateran Council got together and said, "Enough, already!!!" and banned all apocalyptic prophecy throughout all Christendom... This lasted, oh, maybe, five minutes.
1524 CE - A banner year for apocalyptic prophecies! Why this particular year ended up having such an extended busy season is a mystery. But it certainly kept the populace hopping. Moreover, the prophecies for this year actually ran along a "theme",... a bit like Rose Parade floats. "Great Floods Of The Coming Apocalypse" seemed to be the mania-du-jour and astrologers from one end of Europe to another competed to see who could come up with the most outstanding death-by-deluge scenario.
The Grand Marshall's Trophy for Best Use Of An Intimidatingly Pretentious Name To Lend Credibility Where None Is Warranted goes to Nicolaus Peranzonus de Monte Sancte Marie who figured that a conjunction of planets in Pisces that year was proof positive that Great Flood #2 was a'comin'. Pisces being a fish and all and fish being associated with water, it seemed like a sure bet at the time. Unfortunately, by the time 1525 rolled in it was obvious that Nicky had carped out.
The King's Trophy for Most Ado About Nothing goes to an enterprising pack of English astrologers who in 1523 came to the conclusion that the world would be doin' the Noah thang on February 1st, 1524 and that London would be soggy ground zero. Big on PR, our Brit boys made sure to spread the word far and wide so that panic could ensue on the largest possible scale. And ensue, mass panic did. Eventually, no less than 20,000 water-phobic Londoners went tearing off for higher ground - or, what passes for that in England - fleeing their homes without leaving so much as a forwarding address.
Adopting a "we shall not be moved" approach to the problem that any militia nut or earthquake-ready California resident would identify with, the Prior of St. Bartholomew's turned his church into a fortress and dug in with a two-month supply of food and water. The concept of vacuum-sealed containers being some 350 years off, it's a bit puzzling just what use the good Prior thought those provisions would be in a flood zone. In any case, when the Big Day arrived the populace was a bit peeved to discover that February 1st, 1524 turned out to be perhaps the only day in history when it didn't rain in England. Not drop one. Unfazed, our fearless astrological experts merely shrugged, looked their calculations over again and then declared without the least hint of shame, "Oh, bugger, we've bobbled a digit. The real flood should be coming up in 1624. Sorry for the cock-up, but no harm done."
Next up, the Three Hour Tour Trophy for Having Absolutely No Grasp Of The Concept Of Metaphor goes to the genius tag-team of Johannes Stoeffler, astrologer to the stars and Count Von Iggleheim, Biblical literalist and upper-class twit. In 1499, Johannes, using the latest super-high-tech astrological methods, (i.e. he counted a bunch'a stuff in the sky, looked up what their funny names were in a zodiac book and added 'em up with values derived from whatever he'd had for lunch the previous Tuesday) came to the conclusion that the world would be coming to a gurgling halt on February 20th, 1524. Backed by a truly boffo PR dept., Johannes was able to spread hysteria on an even grander scale than our English astro-boys could. Pretty soon, people all over the continent were running around in panicked circles and screaming every time the tide came in.
One of those who weren't quite so frantic was the aforementioned Von Iggleheim; who, instead, directed his attentions and his fortune to the practical business of building a three-story luxury town-ark. To give the fellow something of a break, he wasn't the only one to come up with this idea. In fact, the euro-boat building industry experienced an incredible boom for quite some years thanks to wealthy flakes with an eye toward long-term yachting. It's simply that no one else came close to Iggy's ambitious reconstruction.
Well, we all know the old saw about the best laid plans... On the morn of February 20th, as the rich and powerful, like our Iggles, boarded their various ships, barges, dinghies and arks, a gentle rain began to fall on the poor and destitute left to certain drowning on the dockside. Gripped with a sudden socialist revolutionary passion (not to mention stark, staring terror) the boatless peasants went completely postal and ran riot all over the pier, trampling hundreds to death in a mad stampede to get onto anything that could float. The opulent Von Iggleheim ark must have looked especially attractive to would-be stowaways because they quickly over-ran the ship. In the confusion they started mixing up their Bible passages and before they could get their chapters and verse straight, ended up stoning poor Von Iggleheim to death. Both the cost and the carnage resulting from the sorry escapade were simply horrific and the fact that the promised deluge never even materialized didn't exactly add a silver lining to it, either. Johannes somehow managed to sneak out of town before the riots broke out. He then proceeded to endear himself to absolutely no one by announcing that his latest calculations placed the End of Everything in 1528... as if anyone cared.
1525 CE - The Reformation brought with it a whole new crop of wacky propeller-heads and it would be hard to get any wackier than Thomas Müntzer, German priest, would-be revolutionary and chronic malcontent. Madman Müntzer was not only an end of the world obsessive, he was also one of those types who think they personally are imbued with the power to bring on Doomsday with their own do-it-yourself apocalypse. Seeing the Devil in every nook and cranny and viewing even Martin Luther as a wanton little bleeding-heart liberal, the M-man decided it was entirely up to him to bitch-slap God into bringing on the Last Hurrah.
Spouting off ad-nauseum about the imminent end of everything, he went a'wandering to cities all over Germany and Switzerland, preaching for the extermination of the rich, the powerful and the papists... not necessarily in that order. By 1525, he'd set up a church in the town of Mühlhausen and decorated it with a festive banner declaring war on the forces of evil, which in Müntzer's mind, included just about everyone currently breathing. He managed to attract some 8,000 people as nutso as he was and when the actual army showed up demanding they surrender or die, he poo-pooed their threats with an assurance to his followers that they had a 100% guaranteed victory, courtesy of God. He himself, Müntzer continued, would stand right in the line of fire and catch the cannon-balls in the sleeves of his cloak. After 5,000 of Müntzer's merry band were mowed down like weeds, he, himself was found hiding out in a cellar, his cloak oddly cannon-ball-free. The authorities wasted no time giving him due process... which, in those days meant several weeks of torture and a public beheading.
1528 CE - Johannes's second guess. I don't really need to go into - No, I didn't think so.
Pentecost, 1528 CE - This exact date was picked as the kaput-of-choice by radical reformer Hans Hut, who set about gathering 144,000 "saints" for the gala event. He had the bad luck to get slapped in prison and died there (as happened frequently to "guests of the state" back then) in 1527.
1532 CE - It seems obvious that the faithful of Vienna had endless fun with their local Bishop, Frederick "Tell Me Anything, 'Cuz I'm Dumb As A Danube Barge Pole" Nausea. (okay, the nickname part was my own addition, but the "Nausea" is real... honest!... could I make that up?) Anyway, Freddie began to embrace his inner hysteric when townspeople began reporting events to him that got stranger by the day. Comets streaming through the sky with bloody crosses, flaming castles and multiple suns in the heavens, black bread falling from out of the blue, that sort of thing. The corker was when he was told the one about the eight year old girl in Rome who was lactating warm water like the Trevi fountain. As far as Bishop Nausea was concerned, forget the four horsemen, those were all the signs of the coming apocalypse he needed. Oh, those wacky Viennese!
October 3, 1533 CE 08:00 GMT - A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Or so learned German bible student and math wiz, Michael Stifel when his homework assignment to study the Book of Revelation inspired him to do some extra-credit calculus. This led to his horror-stricken discovery that the world was just about to be expelled for coming in sinful without a note. Dubbing himself "Stefelius" since the possibility of earning the Latinized title through tenure seemed out of the question, he made sure to announce this discovery; date, time and all, to his entire hometown of Lochau. When the date came and went without so much as a drop-drill, the p.o.'d citizenry responded by flogging the bloody weinerschnitzel out of the poor kid. And students today make such a fuss out of detention...
1533-35 CE - Most people would have the common sense not to jump on a bandwagon that's already been run off the road. But, nobody ever accused Jan Matthys of being like most people. Inspired by the pointless martyrdom of Thomas Müntzer and the apocalyptic ravings of one Melchior Hoffman, who was fixated on 1533 as the really-and-for-true date of the Second Coming, Jan managed to wrest control over the town government of Münster (behold the power of cheese), boot out all the Lutherans and Catholics and turn the place into an armed and increasingly screwy Anabaptist camp. Railing day and night about cleansing the ungodly from the face of the earth, banning all books that didn't have "Holy Bible" scrawled on the front, sacking the local cathedral and cooking up his own pet date (Easter of '34) for the Welcome Back, Jesus! party, Jan ran the town as only a wiggy despot could.
After Easter came and went without any sign at all of the Big J, poor Jan's credibility began to falter a tad. Fortunately for his rep, he chose that moment to wander casually outside the city's walls and was promptly hacked to bits by an army of pissed-off Catholics and Lutherans.
The cult that Jan gathered around him didn't fall to pieces as easily as he did, however. There to hold the fearless band of fruitcakes together was another Jan, yet: Jan Beuckelson - and he made Jan Matthys look like Mr. Rogers. Remember what I said earlier about how hard it would be to get any wackier than Thomas Müntzer? Well, leave it to Jan Beuckelson to go for the gold. A former tailor who was clearly a few stitches shy of a hem, Janny B. immediately set the tone for his whole administration by getting naked and running through town squealing in a state of ecstasy. He followed this first official act of duty with the announcement of a brand spanking new godly order that made just about everything from having sex out of wedlock to wearing brown socks with black leiderhosen punishable by death. In his envisioned post-apocalyptic "Kingdom of a thousand years" (Where have I heard that one, before? Hmnnn....) everyone would be pure, pure, pure... three... two... one... Hot on the heels of that announcement, came another one proclaiming polygamy as God's Will-du-jour. In no time, JB was whooping it up with a growing pack of nubile teen-age frauleins and anybody who had a problem with that was promptly put to death in the town square.
Within a very short time Jan B.'s claims to fame went from leader of the pack, to King of the World, to Messiah of The Last Days and he took to strutting around town dressed like a Mardi Gras float surrounded by his groupies while insisting all the rest of his followers maintain a vow of abject poverty. Fun civic activities like mass beheadings, preaching blood-soaked vengeance on all who opposed the cause and eating rats to stave off dying from famine became part of the Münster daily routine until the Catholic/Lutheran forces were finally able to break through the city's defenses and put an end to the party. Short work was made of all the cult's leading members, save Beuckelson himself, who was led around the town in chains (fully clothed), then slowly tortured to death. The authorities then hung the lot of them in cages from the church tower as a festive commemorative touch; one the townsfolk were so proud of, they've kept them on display (well, on the inside of the museum) to this very day.
February 1535 CE - Hendrik Hendriksz, self-styled prophet and hopeless exhibitionist introduces history's first group "streaking" incident when he leads a co-ed bunch of birthday-suited Anabaptists in a 1K run through the streets of Amsterdam, all the while shrieking something about the Final Judgment... or something... Best the bystanders could report, since nobody was paying much attention to what they were saying.
1537 CE - Talk about wanting to cover one's bases. Astrologer Pierre Turrel used as many different computational methods as he could get his hands on and cooked up four different dates over a span of 277 years on which the End might fall. Obviously unable to tolerate rejection, he made sure to keep the list unpublished until after he'd shuffled off his mortal coil. 1537 was the first date mentioned. Strike one.
1544 CE - Strike two.
Germany, 1544 CE - German astrologer Mussemius (just doesn't have the same ominous ring as "Nostradamus" does it?... And yes, we'll be getting to him later, keep ya' shirt on) got the bright idea that lil' baby Jesus popped into the world while there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Virgo - the symbolism of which, I'm not even going to touch. He concluded then, that the Antichrist would be strolling on when Jupiter and Saturn were in Pisces - the symbolism of which reminds me of a really old, crass Adam and Eve joke that I'm not going to touch, either. Obviously, the date came and went without the least concern over Mussemius's astrological calculations and the real joke was entirely on him.
1555 CE - Back in 1400, French cardinal Pierre d'Ailly squandered uncounted hours scrawling out his master plan for the final l'adieu, which he was dead certain would be coming in on schedule 6,845 years after the firing of Creation's starting gun. All of which serves as a prime example of the programmer's maxim, "garbage in, garbage out".
July 22, 1556 CE - French astrology mavens got starry-eyed over a whole mess of astronomical oddities and decided that they added up to a Merry Magdelene's Day doomfest. All the signs and portents portended it, so, it simply had to be true. What could be more reliable than an astrological prediction, after all?... Well, apparently nothing,... if you're relying on predictable failure.
1572 CE - There's really nothing like a good, old fashioned total eclipse of the sun to get those apocalyptic juices flowing, and the eclipse of 1572 was certainly no exception. The skies went dark, the panic set in and much knees bent running around ensued. It's one way to pass a dull afternoon, anyway.
April 28, 1583 CE - English astrologers went at it, again when they predicted global gloom and doom brought on by a great wind. I'd say they managed a self-fulfilling 50%.
1584 CE - Yet another astrologer cruisin' for a Parousia, Cyprian Leowitz predicted this year as the last in the series. Already on Pope Paul IV's top 100 list of Writers He'd Most Like To See As Kindling, Cy was really hoping for a breakout prophecy that would make his reputation for all time to come... however brief a span that might be.
1588 CE - As if poor old astronomer Regiomontanus didn't have enough troubles just being dead, by the mid-sixteenth century he was also the favorite subject of endless crank prophecies and hoaxes of the bizarro variety. Sort of the Disney-on-ice of his day. One particularly entertaining prank was pulled by a crew of mystic-minded weirdoes who insisted that the late Reg-Master had predicted the end of the world for 1588. The proof, they insisted, was in some quatrain... somewhere... they were just looking at it... really!... oh, darn, if the place wasn't such a mess, they'd find it and show everybody. Well, you know how it is. Norfolk physician John Harvey knew exactly what it was: A great, honking pile of leech droppings. And he said so, quite publicly... Though in a more elegant kind of Elizabethan-ish way. Still, why listen to a voice of reason when the alternative allows for a good, healthy bout of terror-crazed gyrations and pointless hysteria? In the end it all worked out; in 1588 the public had its little moment of excitement and by 1589 Dr. Harvey got to say, "I told you so" with endless satisfaction.
1600 CE - Martin Luther; either you love him or you hate him. Tireless reformer against Church corruption on the one hand, woman-hating, anti-Semitic, delusional basket-case whose basic life's motto was, "If it makes people happy, it must be of Satan" on the other. Back around 1500, Luther became convinced that he was living in the ever-popular End Times and that the world would be coming to a bloody, gruesome, gore-drenched, bile-washed, bone-shattering, sinner-roasting, screeching halt in no more than 100 years... Ah, that Luther,... ever the pipe dreamer.
1603 CE - According to Dominican Monk Tomasso Campanella, the sun would be colliding with the Earth in 1603... Not that there's anything wrong with that. In Tommy's reality, Sol was simply a hunk'a hunk'a burnin' love set to come barreling down in the home world's direction for to sear all our sins away. Naturally, he concluded that this was a very scientific theory and even pestered Gallileo to work out the wandering gasball's traveling speed. The end result of this loving solar thwap would usher in a monarchy of the Messiah, or something, complete with a host of bizarre sci-fi gizmos that would have turned Jules Verne green with envy. The failure of this collision to occur didn't seem to put the least crimp in Tom's ramblings. Of course, after the Church slapped him in prison for heresy, he had a good three decades of creative writing time to fill.
1623 CE - Combining really bad poetry with nutty numbers crunching, Eustachius Poyssel (who, with a name like that, was likely acting out from years of schoolyard trauma) pegged 1623 as the year the unbridled awfulness of it all would come to a merciful end.
1624 CE - Flood warning number two according to those Brit astrologers from a century before. This time around, though, nobody went running for the raingear.
1652 - 1690 CE - Some people simply cannot adapt well to change. A stunning example of what can result from a serious lack of coping skills took place in Russia at the end of the 17th century. It all started when Czar Alexis I got his favorite abbot, Nikon appointed Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Nikon had both a taste for Greek Orthodoxy and big plans for church reform and he put the two together in a liturgical combo-platter that a large-ish percentage of priests and laity had no intention of touching. In the big schism that followed, the theological stick-in-the-muds dubbed themselves "Old Believers", dubbed the Tzar and the Patriarch "Beasts of the Revelation" and convinced themselves that Moscow would fall, the world would end and their chances of ever getting a decent borscht again would drop to zero. Seeing themselves as living in the Last Days and deciding that anything was better than falling victim to the Antichrist, some 20,000 Old Believers responded to the crisis by setting themselves on fire. The new-fangled Russian Church responded to their response by pronouncing them all "excommunicated". Now, see, that's where reason and faith part, because reason would have pronounced them all "dead".
1654 CE - In 1578, an amateur astronomer by the extremely cool name of Helisaeus Roeslin, came to the not really adequately explained conclusion that the world would be going up in great balls o' fire in exactly seventy-six years. A wise span to choose if you want to avoid the embarrassment of having your Doomsday prophecy fail while you're still around to be laughed at for it. When the big year came around, Helisaeus's prediction was given further credence by that ever-popular sign of impending doom, a solar eclipse. Soon, church bells were ringing, the populace was praying and physicians were advising people to stay indoors. (Presumably, there are few things more injurious to one's health than going outside in the pouring brimstone) For all the excitement and certain portents, though, 1654 was followed by 1655 right on schedule and fireball-free.
1656 CE - Oh, the things that you never get to read in your High School history books! Take Christopher Columbus, for example. One gets the impression that Chris was spending way too much time out in the tropical sun without a hat. Because 'round about 1501, the famous scourge of the Flat Earth Society began writing bizarre letters and making very strange pronouncements which included, but weren't limited to, referring to himself as "Christbearer".
Feverishly penning his Book Of Prophecies, in which he combined Biblical myth, personal biography, allusions to a Judgment Day circa. 1656 and assertions that he was Joachim of Fiore's missed-but-not-forgotten Messiah, he babbled on with lyrical incoherence about fate, Divinity and how all that broke down in regard to his personal financial portfolio. He even took to signing his missives with a peculiar and not clearly defined mystical symbol, which could only hope to be translated as, "The Explorer Formerly Known As Columbus". Despite his certainty that he was born for higher things, "TEFKAC" royally botched his stint as Big Kahuna of the New World, nearly drowned after losing all his ships at sea, lost a significant chunk of his fortune and eventually died a grumpy old geezer with a serious reputation for being a four-star flying crackpot.
London, 1656 CE - A rumor began circulating amongst the punctuality-obsessed that this year would mark the end of everything. The reason seemed obvious: Since Noah's Flood had occurred 1,656 years after Creation (well, didn't it?!) it was clear that God would be scheduling Flood #2 to arrive promptly 1,656 years after His kid's birthday. Now, who could argue with logic like that?
1662 CE - Apocalypticism finally reached North America as a fine European import. New England cleric, Michael Wigglesworth was touched by the muses (or just plain touched) and penned his 224-stanza epic poem romantically titled, "The Day Of Doom". The day in question being, "real soon now"... as always. Though a shade too early for the New York Times Best Sellers List, it was, nonetheless, an immediate hit. If only poor ol' Wiggy had written it today, he might have made a fortune on the movie rights and merchandising.