Exorcising Poor Last Judgment
The ancient and medieval history of apocalyptic prophesies
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Omar Khayyam Quote#1


999 CE - As anyone who is anyone knows, this particular date was a grand doozy of apocalyptic wankership, complete with people running about like idiots giving away all their worldly possessions, clogging up the cathedrals and collapsing into fits of Divinely-inspired hysteria with the same disconcerting regularity as politicians running for re-election. Peasants let their fields go fallow, flagellants flogged themselves more fiercely and penitents knocked their knees raw crawling over hill, dale and open sewer on pilgrimages to holy tourist traps. And on the magical date of December 31, frenzied Dark Agers fought for elbow room in Europe's churches and held their collective breath at the stroke of midnight.

  Which just goes to show you that you shouldn't believe just anyone. The trouble with the above scenario is that it simply didn't happen. Besides the fact that not everybody saw January 1 as the first day of the new year, the vast majority of people back then spent their entire lives in complete (dare I say, even blissful?) ignorance of "official" dates. There were no cute theme calendars on any peasant's walls, no watches on their wrists and no clocks on any medieval bank buildings. Marking time meant being able to say something like, "Oh, aye! Young Enoch, the dung-scraper's son was whelped back 'afore the oxen took with the dropsy an just after ol' mother Meg was burned for witchcraft some two an' twenty seasons past! Ah, kids today... they know not such merry 'tides."

  It is likely that the better ecclesiasts were all adither about the date, seeing as how they could actually read and would, therefore, be in a position to know something about the biblical Apocrypha that placed the year 1000 as The Big Day. Even so, it was anyone's guess back then just when Jesus' birthdate really was. So, everyone had a different idea about just when the year 1000 might fall. Not to mention conflicting opinions over whether the date should be calculated from his birth (hence AD 1000) or his crucifixion (AD 1033). In short, it's most likely that any real craziness that took place around the dawn of the first millennium happened between irate priests duking it out over who had really done the math.

1033 CE - Second verse, same as the first. A little bit later, but the world is no worse.

1066 CE - The freshly crowned King Harold of England had enough problems to deal with already, what with that huffy little froggy upstart, William of Normandy making grabby motions for the throne. So, the last thing he needed was the appearance of some "evil" omen to caste a further pall on his brief reign. Too bad for Harry, his coronation was followed only a few months later by the reappearance of that favorite cosmic billboard of doom, Halley's Comet. It didn't take long for the populace to conclude that their new leader was bound to be a royal burnout, particularly since the signs and portents rumor mill had it that if he stayed on the throne, the world would end. This opinion was heartily concurred with by Billy-boy of Normandy who, soon after, sailed off to whup Harry's Saxon forces at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was killed in the battle, after having received a poke in the eye with a very sharp stick and the Normans sealed their comet-clinched Conquest by setting William on that throne he'd been so desperately keen on.

1186 CE - Proving once again that there is no such thing as a "harmless" superstition, in 1179 the astrological guru of his age, John Of Toledo squandered his mad money on pamphlets which he circulated everywhere. These let everyone (who could read, that is) know that the world would be finito in exactly seven years. Why? Well, 'cause, see, a whole bunch 'a planets would be aligned in Libra, which, as everyone knows, is the world's most boring Zodiac sign and I suppose his reasoning was that the world would end out of sheer ennui. In anticipation of the fateful day, thousands ran screaming for the hills to hide out in caves, the Emperor of Constantinople had his windows walled up (I guess the Wrath of God doesn't do windows) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, having neither caves nor window-wallers, made himself useful by calling for a day of atonement. As you may have guessed, after the Big Day had come and gone with no End in sight, John-boy couldn't have gotten himself a job doing an astrology column on the back page of the Toledo Tribune.

1213 CE - In a spectacular bid for multiculturalism, Pope Innocent III declared that the prophet Mohammed was the Antichrist. Okay, so it was more Crusader propaganda than a precise Doomsday prophecy, but the effect was still to send legions of proles swarming into the Holy Land like cruise tourists on a port-stop shopping spree.

1254 CE - Emperor Frederick II and Pope Innocent IV didn't exactly get along like two bugs in a rug. Emphasizing this point is the fact that this year was the one in which Freddy's PR people announced to the world at large that they had proof positive the pontiff was the Antichrist. What proof, you ask? Simple: His name, broken down to numeric values, added up to - oh, I bet you're way ahead of me, already, huh? - Yes, that's right! 666! Now, granted, 1254 wasn't, perhaps, the best of years, (well, it was smack dab in the budget end of the Low Middle Ages, so how good could it be?) but mistaking it for the Tribulation was still a bit of a stretch.

1260 CE - The earliest known victim of "Jerusalem Syndrome", Joaquim of Fiore went bananas on a trip to the Holy Land and spent the rest of his life trying to shoehorn human history to fit into his very own, personal (though Divinely revealed, natch') philosophy of progressive Trinitarian ages. After fleeing into the mountains for some years of studious navel-gazing, Joachim, like any delusional head-case worth his salt, began attracting followers. Finding himself the center of a flourishing little cult, the man from Fiore began giving in to that old prophetic feeling and announced with great authority that 1260 would abso-tootly-ootly be the End of it all. Fortunately for Joachim, by the time his irate followers realized they'd been had, he'd been six feet under for some 58 years.

1306 CE - Cock-eyed optimist that he was, in 1147 Gerard of Poehlde came up with the novel notion that Christ's Millennium was already well underway and proceeding along at a jaunty clip even as he scribbled. It having started, oooh, ever so many years back in 306 with the reign of Constantine. Connie being the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity (okay, so it was about five minutes before he died, but it's the thought that counts) and Gerard being just a hopeless sucker for celebrities, this seemed about as auspicious a date as any for the Big Day. This all being the case, (well, to Gerard, anyway) by his calculations, Satan would be popping up like a toaster strudel on the dot of 1306. Honestly, could Satan be any worse about keeping his appointments? I mean, just who does he think he is?! God?! Jeeeeez....

1307 CE - Once a groupie, always a groupie. It's a sad fact, but true. And a prime example of a fanclub far outlasting its usefulness was the late Joachim of Fiore's Apostolic Brethren. Growing stranger with each passing year, the AB finally degenerated into a full-fledged Doomsday cult and in 1307 took up arms against the "Whore Of Babylon". (which is cult weirdo-speak for the "Church of Rome", by the by... just in case you thought they might have been trying to beat up on some poor Middle-Eastern woman) Joe's Bros' were certain that their acts of violent resistance would precipitate the end of the world. Instead, they merely precipitated the end of the club.

1310 CE - Another Joachim fancier and Franciscan extremist was Fra Dolcino of Novara, who split off into his own little cult, built a kind of proto-hippie commune in Piedmont and went on raving about the end of the world until Church forces overran the place and put him and his followers on trial for heresy. Having been found guilty, the Fra announced that the End was due for arrival in a mere three years and that he, himself would be making a return engagement as the Lord's theological handy-wipe. The judges were so impressed with his claims that they prompty invited Fra D. to a bar-b-que... his own.

1346 CE - The Black Death was spreading across Europe, annihilating the population by a daunting 1/3rd. In keeping with the spirit of the times, a new religious movement appeared on the scene: The Flagellants. Today they might be labeled as S&M street theatre, but back then they were seen as your friendly neighborhood soul cleaners, who'd whack themselves up a storm with iron-spiked whips to absolve people - even whole communities - of their sins. Certain that the End Times were upon them, the Flagellants not only happily beat themselves to bloody pulps, but also called for such charming group activities as killing all the Jews in Europe in the name of the Merciful, Just and All-Loving God. (already a major team sport in many places, thanks to the Church) After a few really good massacres, though, they started getting full of themselves and began calling for similar acts of violence against priests and the rich. No longer amused, (and noticing that the End just wasn't a happenin' thing) the Church quickly put the kibosh on the movement and dubbed them all a bunch of weenie little heretic nasties.

1347 CE - The Black Plague continued to roar through Europe like a freight train, mowing down millions and causing apocalyptic prophesies to fly thick and fast. As the Bubonic virus infected people's bodies, so the End Times virus infected their minds. 1347 they believed, would surely be the end of everything.

1348 CE - Unless, of course, this year was to be the end of everything.

1360 CE - No, wait! Make that this year.

1365 CE - Pardon me, my mistake, I meant this year...

1370 CE - No, sorry, sorry, this year...

1375 CE - Oops! My bad. It's this year...

1387 CE - Wait, wait! This year, definitely...

1396 CE - Or possibly, this year...

1400 CE - Or this...

1417 CE - Or this...

1418 CE - Or even, um... never mind...

1420 CE - Way ahead of their time, the proto-militia Taborites chose this year to hunker down into their heavily fortified settlement just south of picturesque Prague and wait for the End to come, certain that soon every city in the world would be destroyed in a Divine conflagration that would leave only a tiny handful of survivalist-types (like themselves, for instance) unsinged in its wake. Of course, so long as they were waiting, they figured they might as well pass the idle hours before the apocalypse by burning down Roman Catholic churches and spreading Holy terror all over the countryside. It didn't take long before they'd managed to piss off pretty much everybody and in 1452 ended up like so many of this sort do: As the extra-crispy, piping hot victims of their own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also in 1420 CE - In that same year, Doomsday prophet Martinek Hausha predicted that the world would come to an end somewhere between February 1st and February 14th. Boy, was his face red post-Valentine's Day.

Late 1400's-ish CE - Physician, alchemist and Joachimite wackjob Arnold of Vilanova got hooked on chronics and worked out the date for the world's retirement party by counting Biblical big-wigs. Bright boy that Arnie was, he not only left the date open for a vague 50 year period, he also pegged his apocalypse for arrival some 200 years after his own exit.

1490 - 1500 CE - Florentine friar, tireless political activist, thorn in the Médicis side and arguable delusional nutbag, Girolamo Savonarola wanted nothing better than to clean up Florence's corrupt political machine. His efforts were actually paying off rather well, too, despite the fact that he'd succeeded in pissing off everyone in power, including notorious Borgia pater familia party-boy, Pope Alexander VI. It was 'round about 1490, though, that he started basing many of his calls for social and political reform on his increasingly obsessive notion that the End was coming up any minute now and it would be a really good idea to tidy up the place and maybe get the stains out of the carpet before Jesus rang the bell. Unfortunately for poor Girolamo, the only end that came was his own after he was accused of heresy, then tortured, hanged and burned in 1498.


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Omar Khayyam Quote 2

It's a bright, new Doomsday from the Reformation
through the age of Victoria, in the next Chapter

Get Thee Back! Home Go Forth!

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