At daybreak on April 14th, 1561, residents of Nuremberg Germany woke up to an alien aerial battle raging above their heads. The heavens were illuminated with bright lights that moved back and forth for hours before a huge, black, spear-shaped object appeared, blotting the sky. Finally, an enormous crash rattled across the city, signalling the end of the strange affair.
The phenomena over Nuremberg have long been regarded as one of the most important recorded early UFO sightings, which is still regarded today by enthusiasts as proof of an extra-terrestrial battle within Earth’s orbit. Modern sceptics and scientists have other views, but let’s not spoil the alien journey just yet.
The original written account was published in April 1561 within a local broadsheet newspaper, accompanied by a stunning woodcut, produced single-handedly by local painter and illustrator Hans Glaser.
According to the report, townsfolk saw hundreds of glowing shapes within the early morning skies, including spheres, crosses, globes, moons and tubes, each moving frenetically across the heavens. The dramatic report recounted a detailed and frightening shared vision.
Between 4 and 5am, civilians of Nuremberg were in the streets, conducting their daily business (I would have slept through the whole thing, missing alien invasions, as per usual). As the sun slowly rose, two ‘blood red’ crescents grew at its centre, while flanking it on all four sides were red and black balls in varying groups and permutations.
Between these balls were a handful of red crosses and enormous slashes of bright red colouring, taking the shape of reeds. In short, the sky was busier than a taxi rank on New Year’s Eve and the onlookers were suitably entranced.
At once, this collage of shapes started fighting with one another, with globes and rods flying across the sky, in and out of the sun, for about an hour. Eventually the fighting became so ferocious that the alien shapes became so tired from their exertions that they fell to earth in a mass of flames, before burning up on land in a cloud of hellish smoke.
After the flaming battle came the enormous black spear, the point fixed to the west.
This navigational spear aspect was of the greatest interest to 16thcentury academics, who saw the report as an untapped and unexplained sign from God. In the original News Notice (an early form of newspaper), writer Hans Glaser interpreted this as one of many signs from God, sent to encourage man to repent for his sins, which was promptly hated or dismissed by an increasingly Godless world. The display was a reminder from the almighty to repent and be wary of his wrath…or be grateful for his mercy. When it comes to the meanings of celestial wars, the theological reading appears to be in a perpetual state of anger and panic.
As historically and artistically important as the events of 1561 were, the beautifully illustrated report (especially in terms of burning crosses being a representation of God’s anger) was undoubtedly exaggerated. As the story passed between onlookers and the literate who had not been present, the story snowballed and grew like a Lego set, adding more and more bits until what was once a pretty scene looked like modernist carnage.
[16th Century Woodcut of Nuremberg from The Nuremberg Chronicle]
Most contemporary scholars and skeptics believe the report to be entirely fictional, or a misinterpreted ‘sundog’, otherwise known as ‘parhelia’. This is a phenomenon where two additional lights appear at either side of the sun in an atmospheric halo, created by the interaction of sunlight with ice crystals in the atmosphere.
The story of the Nuremberg sighting spent centuries in relative obscurity until (according to author Jason Colavito) psychologist Carl Jung published the 1958 book ‘Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the skies’. Jung’s work explored the nature of supposed UFOs, arguing that such sightings were as a result of a ‘collective unconscious’, most potent and prevalent at times of unease and upheaval, such as Bavaria was experiencing in the 16th century.
In addressing the Nuremberg incident, he inadvertently helped popularise the belief that the strange atmospheric event was indeed, aliens.
Jung personally believed that the alien battle was a natural, atmospheric phenomenon, heightened in reports through additional religious and military narratives; crosses and spears ticked both boxes.
After enjoying prosperity for centuries, being a safe haven for nobility and the wealthy, following the Reformation, Nuremberg’s fall from grace was sudden and severe. Refusing to financially support a prince’s battle, the city was fully attacked, isolated and its trade routes severed. Despite successfully fighting back, the costs incurred resulted in the inhabitants of Nuremberg being subjected to heavy taxation, plunging the city into a hard depression.
Similar events to those of 1561 were reported several more times with Nuremberg as their focus. In Nuremberg, the once-wealthy were subjected to financial and physical hardships, leading to an increased fear of God’s punishment and the oncoming End Times. In places of immense upheaval, apocalyptic visions were similarly commonplace. As exciting as an alien battle sounds, religious fervour and atmospheric phenomena are a far more likely, and terrestrial, explanation.
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Further Reading, Sources and Fun:
Book – Jung, Carl. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. Routledge. (2002)