The Beatus of La Seu de Urgell is a tenth-century illuminated manuscript held at the Urgell Diocesan Museum in Catalunia, Spain. It contains Beatus of Liebana’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation, which exists in thirty-four manuscripts copied during a time spanning from the ninth to the sixteenth century, mostly in the Iberic peninsula.
This witness of the Beatus tradition is of special importance for the quality and inventiveness of its illuminations and especially for its early date. Produced in the tenth century, the manuscript is very close in time to the manuscript written by Beatus of Liébana, the original author of the commentary contained in this manuscript.
Beatus was a monk who lived around 800 in the Monastery of St. Martin in the valley of Liébana in Cantabria. Beatus collected works of the Fathers of the Church, Isidore of Seville and other exegetes and presented an original commentary to the text of the Revelation.
The complete work is divided in twelve books, each comprising a section with the text and one with the explanation.
Beatus of La Seu de Urgell: the Vivid Colors of the Kingdom of León
A manuscript of large size, the Beatus of La Seu de Urgell contains 478 pages. Written in an elegant round Visigothic script, the manuscript shows the traditional page layout organized in two columns of text.
No colophon provides information about the time of production. However, on the base of the comparison with the Valcavado manuscript preserved in Valladolid, the Beatus of La Seu de Urgell can be dated shortly after 970, like the Valcavado exemplar.
The Urgell manuscript is extensively illuminated, containing 79 miniatures, some of which cover two pages, and genealogical trees that appear at the opening of the book.
The pictorial style belongs to the tradition of the Mozarabic art associated to the area of León. Bright and pure colors enliven the imaginative iconography of the Beatus tradition. Linear figures, reduced to essential lines, populate the scenes described in the Book of Revelation.
Illuminating the End of the World: Approaching the year 1000
The Beatus of La Seu de Urgell along with other Beatus manuscripts produced at the end of the tenth century were probably due to the belief that the end of the Millennium would have marked the end of the world.
The illustrations of the world to come as described in the Book of Revelation were probably made to prepare the monks as they awaited the approaching end of the world.
The Urgell Beatus remained in Spain long after its production. From an inventory of the Seu de Urgell library we can infer that in 1147 the book was in the area of the Pyrenees already. The book is considered a gift from Armengol V to St. Otto, bishop and patron of Urgell.