From the beginning of the Christian Era and during the Middle Ages, the Apocalypse’s text inspired and strengthened the artists’ imagination, thank to the richness of its prophetic visions and to the power of its symbols.
The Apocalypse of Valenciennes contains the first remains of the complete cycles of the Biblical illustrations.
The pages of this Apocalypse are enriched with 39 miniatures with bright colors, positioned beside the text. Each miniature is framed or interlaced with geometrical elements and with brief paragraphs, which enable the reader to enter the dramatic narration and to meditate on it.
The manuscript begins with a portrait of John (fol. 4). The Evangelist strongly claims the reader’s attention with his eyes, while his left hand is placed upon the heart. His mouth shapes the first words of the text.
The Apocalypse of Valenciennes’s illustrations derive from a cycle of images which were brought by Abbot Benito Bischoff from Rome to the Monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, during a trip that he took in the year 676.
The name of the scribe who wrote the Apocalypse of Valenciennes is said to be “Otoltus”, but his place of birth is not known. His illustrations can be stylistically compared to the miniatures of a manuscript contemporary to the Gospels, from Central Rhine.
They can also be associated to the illustrations of a manuscript: “Carmen Paschale” by Sedulius, from the Flanders. This makes the place of origin of the Apocalypse of Valenciennes a matter of discussion among the specialists.
This controversy takes a special meaning in Spain, because the Apocalypse of Valenciennes is, without a doubt, the birthplace of the miniatures of Beatus of Liebana. The experts agree that in this masterpiece can be traced the origins of the European apocalyptic images, and especially of those of the Iberian Peninsula.
With the development of the miniature, in the IX Century, in the manuscript’s folios 1-3 were included the story of Oviedo’s ark, and of the relics it contained. The countries through which the ark passed are also named: Jerusalem, Africa, Carthage, Toledo, and Asturias.
This text dates back to the IX Century, and the named relics constitute the official version that Oviedo Cathedral gives to the peregrines. The importance of the Apocalypse of Valenciennes lies in the fact that it demonstrates that both the history and the traditions of the relics are dated before Pelayo.