ff. 147v-148r, The battle between the serpent and the Son of the Woman
This is one of the most stunning compositions amongst the illustrations in the Beatus codices and the version in the Ferdinand I Beatus has even appeared in the film “The Name of the Rose”. In thirteen of the extant copies, this is an double-page image. The different episodes in this scene are not portrayed strictly in the order of the tale. Several texts explain the illustration which is dominated by a huge, red, seven-headed dragon: the back-bone of the entire story. Its different heads fight the woman and the angels and vomits water into the desert into which the woman has fled. Apart from the Osma Beatus (f. 117v) which shows the sun upon her head and the naked child upon her stomach, the other codices shift the sun to her stomach – a formula maintained until the 13th century. The crown around her head is formed by twelve stars. Beneath her feet lies the inverted moon disk (mulier amic/ta sole ex luna / sub pedibus ei[us] / et sup[er] caput / corona / stellarum), an element appearing in all Beatus except, once again, the Osma codex which shows a complete disk and the Arroyo Beatus showing the crescent pointing upwards (ff. 110v-111r). Although the large, corpulent dragon dominates the scene, the woman is repeated three times. The order of the events must be clarified. On the right of the illustration is the winged woman bearing her son towards the throne of God (ubi puer raptus est / ad d[ominu]m). Heaven is symbolized by the stars against which the three figures are depicted. The woman, who has fled into the desert, is portrayed with large wings, one pointing downwards and the other outspread (date sunt / mulieri ale / aquile), and the snake (serpens / misit / aquam / ex / ore / suo / post / mulierem) alludes to said satanic animal. A winged St Michael, accompanied by two angels, fights the dragon (michael et angeli eius cum draco[ne] / pugnant), and defeats and vanquishes Satan and his angels. When depicted as Satan, he appears tied up in the depths of the abyss – portrayed as stocks – surrounded by eight of his wingless, naked angels (quos draco traxit angeli in infernum mittunt). The dragon’s tail has swept one third of the stars from the sky (ubi draco traxit / tertiam partem / stellarum), the number of which varies in the different Beatus, meaning it is just a symbolic number. The texts mentioned match those in the codices belonging to stemma IIa, albeit with certain variations.
The vision of the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil is possibly the most magnificent one in the Revelation to St John. It was to give rise to two of the iconographic subjects in Christian art: St Michael and the Immaculate Conception – the latter from the 15th century onwards. However both Beatus and the early exegetes considered the Woman dressed in the sun to be the embodiment of the Church and to be unrelated to the Virgin. The colour and the layout make the illustration extremely dramatic. The dragon with its eye-catching heads and red colour,is defeated by the spear-bearing angels, and once overcome, he watches the fall of his apterous, naked angels in a prefiguration of the damned during the Last Judgment.
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