In 1503, north­ern Ger­many wit­nessed a se­ries of aerial por­tents, in­clud­ing blood rains and the ap­pear­ance of cru­ci­form shapes on the bod­ies of wit­nesses. JEF­FREY VAL­LANCE re­counts how one of the great­est artists of the Re­nais­sance was on hand to record th

Fortean Times - - Contents - JEF­FREY VAL­LANCE is Jef­frey Val­lance is an artist, writer, cu­ra­tor, ex­plorer, para­nor­mal ex­pe­ri­encer and FT spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. He is the au­thore of Blinky the Friendly Hen, Relics and Reli­quar­ies and The Val­lance Bi­ble. He is Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor in Ne

In 1503, north­ern Ger­many wit­nessed a se­ries of aerial por­tents, in­clud­ing blood rains and the ap­pear­ance of cru­ci­form shapes on the bod­ies of wit­nesses. JEF­FREY VAL­LANCE re­counts how one of the great­est artists of the Re­nais­sance was on hand to record these won­ders.

Al­brecht Dürer (1471–1528) wit­nessed a dou­ble fortean event in 1503, in his home­town of Nuremberg: a rain of blood caus­ing a cru­ci­fix­ion scene to form on the clothes of a young girl. The artist made a care­ful draw­ing of this sim­u­lacrum in his sketch­book.

One of the most im­por­tant and pro­lific artists of the Ger­man Re­nais­sance, Dürer es­tab­lished his rep­u­ta­tion and in­flu­ence as a skilled pain­ter and for his re­mark­able wood­cut prints. His vast body of work also in­cludes en­grav­ings, al­tar­pieces, por­traits and self-por­traits, water­colours, and books. His most cel­e­brated work, The Apoca

lypse ( Apoca­lyp­sis cum Fig­uris, 1498), is a se­ries of 15 wood­cut print scenes from the Book of Reve­la­tion. These prints fea­ture such char­ac­ters as the Four Horse­men, the Lamb of God, the Whore of Baby­lon, the Seven-Headed Beast of the Apoca­lypse, dev­ils, saints and an­gels. In four of the prints, Dürer de­picts rains of blood and fire; pre­scient, as a few years later he would be an eye­wit­ness to these phe­nom­ena. The Apoca­lypse wood­cuts echoed the anx­i­eties of the times, when prophe­cies of im­pend­ing doom cir­cu­lated widely through­out Europe. With these wood­cuts, Dürer did some­thing that no artist had done be­fore, pro­duc­ing them on his own and with­out a wealthy pa­tron. He made large quan­ti­ties of these prints and sold them at car­ni­vals and fairs – he was the Thomas Kinkade of his day! He sent one full set of prints to Martin Luther.


Around the year 1500, a se­ries of bad omens stirred up apoc­a­lyp­tic fer­vour. The omi­nous signs in­cluded a plan­e­tary con­junc­tion, a comet, ru­mours of war, mon­strous births, re­peated out­breaks of the plague, and rains of blood. The oc­cur­rence of blood rain (or red rain) has been re­ported since an­cient times. The first lit­er­ary in­stance is in Homer’s

Iliad, in which Zeus sends a rain of blood fore­telling im­pend­ing slaugh­ter in bat­tle. Many have spec­u­lated as to the true cause of these san­guineous pre­cip­i­ta­tions. Some ex­pla­na­tions sup­pose that the rain mixes with par­ti­cles in the at­mos­phere, like sand from the Sa­hara Desert or dust from the Ara­bian penin­sula; blood from mi­gra­tory birds (quails or swal­lows) that were torn to bits in a vi­o­lent wind; ma­te­rial from outer space, in­clud­ing ex­plod­ing me­te­ors or from the tail of a comet; masses of pansper­mia (mi­cro- scopic life forms that can sur­vive for years in a dor­mant state and can be prop­a­gated through outer space from one lo­ca­tion to an­other); vol­canic ash (tephra) from an erupt­ing vol­cano; but­ter­fly drop­pings; vul­ture vomit; iron ox­ide; as­sorted pol­lens; and, the most re­cently favoured ex­pla­na­tion, aerial spores from mi­croalgæ. The ex­perts can’t agree on how it oc­curs or which species of algæ pro­duce the red­dish colour; un­der the mi­cro­scope, the par­ti­cles look like cor­pus­cles or veg­etable cells and have been iden­ti­fied

var­i­ously as Hæ­ma­to­coc­cus plu­vi­alis, Palmella prodi­giosa, Pro­to­coc­cus flu­vi­alis or Trentepohlia an­nu­lata. Charles Fort was not con­vinced by any of the stan­dard ex­pla­na­tions. In­stead, in The Book of the Damned, he sug­gests that it could be “de­bris from in­ter-plan­e­tary dis­as­ters... Or that there are oceans of blood some­where in the sky... Or our whole so­lar sys­tem is a liv­ing thing: that show­ers of blood upon this earth are its in­ter­nal hæ­m­or­rhages.”

In 1503, a rain of blood re­port­edly fell on scores of peo­ple – mostly women – in Ger­many and the Nether­lands, re­sult­ing in cru­ci­form shapes form­ing on their cloth­ing and skin. The phe­nom­e­non is known by two terms: Kreuzre­gen (Rain of Crosses) and Kreuzwun­der (Mir­a­cle of the Crosses). It has been sug­gested that crosses formed when the stain spread out along the weave of the fab­ric in the cloth­ing or in the re­cesses of elab­o­rately folded head­dresses ( Wulst

haube), pop­u­lar with North Euro­pean women at the time. The an­cient St Lam­bert’s Cathe­dral in Liège pre­served sev­eral Kreuzwun­der cloth relics, un­til the struc­ture was sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed and the relics ran­sacked dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion.

In Nuremberg that same year, a me­nac­ing comet glowed over­head as the plague raged through the city. Carts filled with corpses

In Nuremberg, a me­nac­ing comet glowed over­head as the plague raged

rum­bled through the streets as blood poured from the sky, call­ing to mind a ghastly scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which the Dead Col­lec­tor char­ac­ter cries out: “Bring out your dead!” Dürer heard that blood rain had fallen on the clothes of his neigh­bour’s maid, form­ing a stain in the shape of an en­tire cru­ci­fix­ion scene. He at once sought her out and made an ink draw­ing of what he wit­nessed. He ti­tled this draw­ing Mirac­u­lous Cross. In his Ge­denkbuch (Me­mo­rial Book), Dürer wrote: “The great­est mir­a­cle that I have ever seen in all my days hap­pened in 1503, when a great many crosses fell.” He went on to say the girl was be­side her­self weep­ing, fear­ing that she would surely die.


The sym­bol of the cross has al­ways been a pow­er­ful totemic sign. Be­fore the fourth cen­tury, Chris­tians were ex­tremely ret­i­cent about por­tray­ing the cross openly, as it might ex­pose them to ridicule or dan­ger. In AD 312, on the eve of bat­tle, Ro­man Em­peror Con­stan­tine al­legedly saw a sim­u­lacrum in the shape of a chi-rho cross in the sky over the Sun with the Greek words Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα, usu­ally trans­lated into Latin as in hoc signo vinces – “in this sign con­quer” (see FT275:49). The chi-rho sym­bol is formed by su­per­im­pos­ing the first two let­ters XP of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Chris­tos). The man­i­fes­ta­tion of Con­stan­tine’s vi­sion sounds sim­i­lar to the at­mo­spheric phe­nom­e­non of a parhe­lion (“sun dog”) con­sist­ing of a bright spot next to the Sun, cre­ated when light is re­fracted through ice crys­tals in the air. This vi­sion, we are told, caused Con­stan­tine to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity and pro­mote the cross as its sym­bol. From that time on, war­ring Chris­tian na­tions have pro­claimed that God is on their side. The Ma­sonic mil­i­tary or­der of the Red Cross of Con­stan­tine still uses the chi-rho as its em­blem. A red cross on a white field (termed the Cross of Saint Ge­orge) is one of the ear­li­est heraldic em­blems, dat­ing back to the field signs used dur­ing the Cru­sades to dis­tin­guish no­ble cru­saders. The red-on­white cross even­tu­ally came to be used by the Knights Tem­plar. In 1190, the em­blem was adopted as the crest of the City of Lon­don. In the flag used by Protes­tant churches – a white field with a red cross in­side of a blue can­ton – the shade of red sym­bol­ises the blood of Je­sus. The sym­bol of a red cross on a white back­ground is also the logo of the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross. Un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tion, it is to be placed on hu­man­i­tar­ian and med­i­cal ve­hi­cles and build­ings, and to be worn by per­son­nel to pro­tect them from mil­i­tary at­tack on the bat­tle­field. In pop­u­lar cul­ture, the red cross be­came the generic em­blem for medicine com­monly as­so­ci­ated with first aid and med­i­cal ser­vices. (More re­cently, an iden­ti­cal but green cross has been pop­u­larised as the sign for med­i­cal mar­i­juana.) The sym­bol of a cross on a drop of blood is the logo for blood do­na­tion. The mas­cot for Red Cross blood drives is a huge smil­ing drop of blood with hands and feet say­ing, “Hi, I’m Billy Blood Drop, but you can call me Billy. My job is to tell you all about blood.” Con­versely, the blood-drop-cross badge is the in­signia of the heinous white supremacy group the Ku Klux Klan.


A won­der­ful wood­cut print­maker and con­tem­po­rary of Dürer, Jörg Glock­endon, de­picted the ar­ray of cru­ci­ate im­ages that ap­peared dur­ing the Kreuzre­gen. The cross stain that Dürer doc­u­mented was the most de­tailed Kreuzwun­der ever seen, il­lus­trat­ing an en­tire cru­ci­fix­ion scene com­plete with an­cil­lary fig­ures. Tra­di­tion­ally, paint­ings of the cru­ci­fix­ion com­monly fea­ture theVir­gin Mary stand­ing on the right side of the cross while St John is po­si­tioned on the left. Other bib­li­cal fig­ures gath­ered at the cross may in­clude Mary Magdalene in a red cloak, the Ro­man cen­tu­rion Long­i­nus (who thrust the Holy Lance into the side of Christ), Joseph of Ari­mathea catch­ing the blood of Christ in the Holy Grail, Ni­code­mus (who gave his burial crypt to Christ and helped wrap Him in the Holy Shroud), the sponge-bearer, the two thieves, and the sol­diers cast­ing lots at the foot of the Cross. Dürer’s cru­ci­fix­ion sim­u­lacrum ap­pears to show Christ hang­ing limp on the Cross, with theVir­gin in a pray­ing stance stand­ing to the left and Long­i­nus hold­ing a lance on the right. Dur­ing the reign of the Kreuzwun­der, other sym­bol­ism ap­peared, such as mirac­u­lous im­ages of in­stru­ments of the Pas­sion of Christ ( Arma Christi), in­clud­ing the holy ham­mer and nails, the whip, the crown of thorns, the lance, the sponge on a reed, the seam­less gar­ment, dice for cast­ing of lots, the lad­der, and the cock that crowed thrice.

It is cu­ri­ous to note that Dürer’s 1493 wood­cut The Cru­ci­fix­ion with the Vir­gin and St John is al­most iden­ti­cal to his Mirac­u­lous Cross drawn 10 years later. Each work de­picts Christ hang­ing limply from a cru­ci­fix with a short­ened stipe. TheVir­gin (with halo) is pray­ing on the left, while an­other holy per­son­age stands on the right. When, in 1503, Dürer drew the stain, was he re­pro­duc­ing it ex­actly as he saw it, or was he sub­con­sciously in­flu­enced by the com­po­si­tion of his own ear­lier draw­ing?

It was said that of the peo­ple who re­ceived the marks of the bloody crosses and pas­sion sym­bols on their clothes dur­ing the Kreuzre­gen of 1503, the ones that wor­shipped the holy im­ages were blessed, while those who cut the stains off their gar­ments were struck dead by live ven­omous snakes that crawled out from the cloth. More­over, if the red rain fell di­rectly on ex­posed skin, the flesh burned like glow­ing coals. The Benedictine Monastery of Nieder­al­te­ich kept a record of such events, not­ing that the burns caused se­vere in­jury that was at times fa­tal. The Book of Reve­la­tion pre­dicts the Apoca­lypse will in­clude a se­ries of plagues be­falling the Earth, in­clud­ing a rain of “fire mixed with blood”, com­pa­ra­ble to the burn­ing blood rain. The cit­i­zens of Nuremberg feared for their lives from these dread­ful signs.

In sub­se­quent searches for the mean­ing of the fall­ing blood crosses, much em­pha­sis has been put on the con­cur­rent ce­les­tial con­junc­tion of Saturn and Jupiter in the con­stel­la­tion of Can­cer. Ac­cord­ing to the as­tro­log­i­cal manuscripts of the early 16th cen­tury, the prac­tice of as­sign­ing zo­di­a­cal signs to cor­re­late with re­gions of the Earth aided in prog­nos­ti­ca­tion. To get to the crux of the mat­ter, the Saturn-Jupiter con­junc­tion fore­told an im­pend­ing in­va­sion by the Ot­toman Em­pire. A pam­phlet pub­lished in Basel in 1503, writ­ten by Lib­er­tus, the Bishop Suf­fra­gan of Liège, en­ti­tled In­ter­pre­ta­tion and Sig­nif­i­cance of the Crosses That Are Now Fall­ing ( Usle­gung vñ Betüt­nus der Crutz so yetzo fallen), re­counts a num­ber of Kreuzwun­der­re­lated phe­nom­ena. Lib­er­tus came to four con­clu­sions: that the mirac­u­lous crosses must be solemnly ven­er­ated; that they are signs of God’s wrath against those who op­pose the Church; and that God dis­ap­proved of provoca­tive dress in women (who were fre­quently af­fected). Thus, with Con­stan­tine’s mil­i­taris­tic vi­sion of the chi-rho cross di­rect­ing Chris­tian armies to “in this sign con­quer,” Lib­er­tus con­cluded it was God’s will that war be waged against the Turks!

LEFT: Al­brecht Dürer, in a 1498 self-por­trait. FAC­ING PAGE: One of the scenes from Dürer’s Apoca­lypse of the same year.

ABOVE: The Kreuzwun­der of 1503 de­picted on fo­lio 90 of the Book of Mir­a­cles, pub­lished in Augs­burg in 1552. BE­LOW LEFT: Dürer’s Cru­ci­fix­ion with the Vir­gin and Saint John, 1493. BE­LOW RIGHT: The page from Dürer’s Ge­denkbuch with his ink draw­ing of the “great­est mir­a­cle that I have ever seen in all my days”.

ABOVE: Two wood­cuts show­ing the bloody crosses and sym­bols of Christ’s pas­sion that ap­peared on peo­ple’s bod­ies dur­ing the Kreuzre­gen.

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