Angels and the Antichrist: The Cardeña Beatus

The Cardeña Beatus – Codex of the Monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, from the 12th century
By Ángela Franco Mata, Chief of the Medieval Antiquities Department, Museo Arqueológico Nacional, from the Cardeña Beatus Commentary Volume


The Cardeña Beatus, is the most beautiful manuscript in the later series of Commentaries on the Apocalypse by the monk Beatus of Liébana. This codex, datable between 1175-1185, was the model for other Beatus codices including the one at the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, and a loose folio at the Museu d’Art, Gerona, once mistakenly ascribed to the Cardeña Beatus. Most of the surviving folios of the Cardeña Beatus are bound and housed at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid; another fifteen of its folios were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and its other one and a half folios belong to the Francisco Zabálburu y Basabe Library, Madrid.

Unlike in the central centuries of the Middle Ages when the text itself was held in particularly high esteem and constituted obligatory reading in monasteries during the liturgical period between Easter and Pentecost, the later series of Beatus manuscripts was considered to be a prestigious item by the newly founded monasteries. The lavish colouring based on reds, blues and greens combined with gold leaf on haloes and architectural details all highlight the magnificent decoration in complete harmony with the text transcribed by skilful copyists who may, like St Martin of León, have complained about the terrible back and shoulder pains caused by such hard and constant work. The illumination carried out in c. 1175-85 is clearly influenced by insular art and vaguely reminiscent of Carolingian art. This ostentatious decoration is one reason why this manuscript has survived in quite good condition.

f. 42r, The message to the Church of Ephesus

The illustrator employs a composition consisting of John and the angel to the left. John is holding the book and the angel stretches out his right hand towards him as if in conversation. The Church of Ephesus stands on the right on two levels: above, three arches and below, a horseshoe arch inside which an altar can be seen. It is topped by four towers, the two centre towers being more elegant and well-finished. The wealth of red- and gold-based colours contrasts with the poor skill of the miniaturist. The Manchester illustration has similar iconographic characteristics.
f. 10A, The angel with the fifth trumpet