What Caused Panic In Nuremberg In 1561, UFOs or Religious Propaganda?
On April 14th 1561, widespread panic was caused among the populace of the bustling Bavarian town of Nuremberg. The source of that panic was described as an "aerial battle" involving hundreds of bright lights littering the sky from horizon to horizon. Explanations for the appearance of these lights have ranged from UFOs to light refraction, but with a centuries old broadsheet report the only account of events, is it likely that we will ever discover what caused this mass panic in Renaissance Bavaria?
"A dreadful apparition"
Whatever it was that appeared in the skies above 16th century Nuremberg, one thing is for sure, it scared the living daylights out of those who witnessed it. The account from Hans Glaser's broadsheet is the only information we have, and it tells a tale of terror and bewilderment..
"In the morning of April 14th 1561, between 4 and 5am, 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," reads a translation of the report. "At first there appeared in the middle of the sun two blood-red semicircular 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 numbers, about three in a line and four in a square, also some alone."
Of course, this was renaissance Europe, colorful language was par for the course back then, but just how bad could it have been? Considering when this event occurred, one would imagine that any objects appearing in the sky might be cause for concern for a society that had only just started to once again direct their attention to the stars. After all, it was just 40 odd years after this event that poor old Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. His crime? Suggesting that the universe contained numerous stars much like our sun, and that these stars played host to inhabited planets, just like ours....
"Wasted Away With Immense Smoke"
This was a god-fearing age, and while that fact can account for much of the emotive language, it doesn't account for the incredibly detailed account of what was, if we are to believe the broadsheet's description, a very active set of of aerial phenomena.
"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."
It is this last statement that is arguably the most interesting of the whole account. Whatever it was that the people of Nuremberg saw, this broadsheet account suggests that they were seen to give off smoke when they crashed to the ground. If this account is accurate, it would appear to rule out the explanation that this event was caused by weather patterns or light refractions. But, that's a pretty big IF.
As I mentioned before, these were god-fearing times. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing across much of mainland Europe, with new churches being created at a rapid pace. Indeed, the Lutheran church was blossoming across much of Germany and Baltic Europe, and Hans Glaser is thought to have possessed strong beliefs that were centered with this new movement. Furthermore, in this time religious diversification broadsheets were often used to spread ideological theories and their emotive prose soon became an effective method of encouraging certain types of behaviour in the masses. Just take a look at the closing statements of Glaser's account:
"Whatever such signs mean, God alone knows. Although we have seen, shortly after another, many kinds of heaven, which are sent to us by the almighty God to bring us 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 there, live as his children. For it, may God grant us his help, Amen. By Hanns Glaser, letter-painter of Nurnberg."
In one fell swoop Glaser's prose has shifted from a detailed description of events to a vehement religious interpretation of them. While this may simply be an honest interpretation, and one that occurred as standard for the time, Glaser's position as a broadsheet printer offered him a great deal of power and should not be ignored. This power offered the man a chance to spread the word for a religious cause that he reportedly believed strongly in. Could it be that this spectacular event has been blown out of proportion and used as form of effective religious propaganda? Unfortunately, there is no way to be certain, but we do know that when it comes to setting his ideological beliefs down in print, Hans Glaser had previous.
A Mystery For The Ages
Despite having occurred over 450 years ago, the 'battle' over Nuremberg only shot to prominence in the 20th century, thanks in part to Carl Jung's book Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the sky. Jung was a proponent of the theory that UFO events, such as those that occurred above Nuremberg, were often grossly misinterpreted by the human brain. In this case, Jung suggests that the events may have a consequence of a natural phenomenon, or even a military event.
Unfortunately, with an event as ancient as this, it is unlikely we will ever find a true explanation. Ufologists and UFO believers will continue to argue that without evidence to the contrary, this was an extraterrestrial event. Others will remain confident in their belief that this was a natural event seized upon by an opportunistic religious writer. One thing is for sure though, without the arrival of any other accounts of the event, the debate as to what happened on that day 453 years ago, will continue to rumble on.