Celestial Phenomenon Over Nuremberg, April 14th, 1561

As the sun rose on April 14, 1561, over the German city of Nuremberg, the residents saw what they described as some kind of aerial battle take place in its glare — complete with the erratic dance of orbs, crosses, cylinders, and the appearance of a large and mysterious black arrow-shaped object — all followed by a crash-landing somewhere beyond the city limits. Later that month, local artist Hans Glaser produced a broadsheet (pictured above) offering a woodcut engraving of the scene, and a detailed description of what was witnessed. The text reads:

In the morning of April 14, 1561, at daybreak, between 4 and 5 a.m., a dreadful apparition occurred on the sun, and then this was seen in Nuremberg in the city, before the gates and in the country – by many men and women. At first there appeared in the middle of the sun two blood-red semi-circular arcs, just like the moon in its last quarter. And in the sun, above and below and on both sides, the color was blood, there stood a round ball of partly dull, partly black ferrous color. Likewise there stood on both sides and as a torus about the sun such blood-red ones and other balls in large number, about three in a line and four in a square, also some alone. In between these globes there were visible a few blood-red crosses, between which there were blood-red strips, becoming thicker to the rear and in the front malleable like the rods of reed-grass, which were intermingled, among them two big rods, one on the right, the other to the left, and within the small and big rods there were three, also four and more globes. These all started to fight among themselves, so that the globes, which were first in the sun, flew out to the ones standing on both sides, thereafter, the globes standing outside the sun, in the small and large rods, flew into the sun. Besides the globes flew back and forth among themselves and fought vehemently with each other for over an hour. And when the conflict in and again out of the sun was most intense, they became fatigued to such an extent that they all, as said above, fell from the sun down upon the earth ‘as if they all burned’ and they then wasted away on the earth with immense smoke. After all this there was something like a black spear, very long and thick, sighted; the shaft pointed to the east, the point pointed west. Whatever such signs mean, God alone knows. Although we have seen, shortly one after another, many kinds of signs on the heaven, which are sent to us by the almighty God, to bring us to repentance, we still are, unfortunately, so ungrateful that we despise such high signs and miracles of God. Or we speak of them with ridicule and discard them to the wind, in order that God may send us a frightening punishment on account of our ungratefulness. After all, the God-fearing will by no means discard these signs, but will take it to heart as a warning of their merciful Father in heaven, will mend their lives and faithfully beg God, that He may avert His wrath, including the well-deserved punishment, on us, so that we may temporarily here and perpetually there, live as his children. For it, may God grant us his help, Amen. By Hanns Glaser, letter-painter of Nurnberg.

Interpreted religiously at the time, more recently some have considered the event an early sighting of extraterrestrial beings — the witnessing of some kind of alien spaceship battle occurring in the Bavarian skies. Although one, perhaps, shouldn't entirely rule out such a far-fetched interpretation, it is more likely that what the good people of Nuremberg witnessed that morning, and subsequently elaborated upon, was a natural meteorological phenomenon (possibly "sundogs", or to give them their scientific term, "parhelia"?). Another interesting idea relates to the fact that a year earlier Vannoccio Biringuccio published De La Pirotechnia, Europe's first book on metallurgy which contained several chapters on the preparation and use of rockets in warfare and festivals. Could this Italian book have made its way to the hands of a Nuremberg resident keen to try out the firework recipes it included?

This mysterious event in Nuremberg, and its depiction in Glaser's broadsheet, would go largely unmentioned until the twentieth century, when it appeared in Carl Jung's 1958 work Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.

For more on sixteenth-century broadsheets depicting wondrous, celestial events see our post here.

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