There is the common image that the UFO phenomenon is a relatively new thing, spawned in the modrn world. After all, the whole worldwide flying suacer craze didn’t really start until the late 1940s and early 1950s, before then being a thing that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. It is easy to think that this is a purely modern phenomenon, but there are in fact reports going way back through time of bizarre things going on in our skies, and here we will look at some rather bizarre reports of UFO activity from centuries past.
A very early report of UFO activity goes all the way back to the year 540, when a Saint Benedict of Nursia saw something very strange at Monte Cassino, Italy. At dawn on that day, Saint Benedict observed a “glittering light that became a fiery glob,” so bright that it banished away the darkness of the night to make it as if day. As he looked on at this amazing sight, he saw Germanus, the Bishop of Capua rise into the air to disappear into the light, after which it shot off into the distance at great speed. An account of what happened next reads:
Upon this sight a marvelous strange thing followed, for, as himself did afterward report, the whole world gathered as it were together under one beam of the sun was presented before his eyes, and while the venerable father stood attentively beholding the brightness of that glittering light, he saw the soul of Germanus, Bishop of Capua, in a fiery globe to be carried up by Angels into heaven. Then desirous to have some witness of this so notable a miracle, he called with a very loud voice Servandus the Deacon twice or thrice by his name, who, troubled at such an unusual crying out of the man of God, went up in all haste, and looking forth saw not anything else, but a little remnant of the light, but wondering at so great a miracle, the man of God told him all in order what he had seen, and sending by and by to the town of Cassino, he commanded the religious man Theopropus to dispatch one that night to the city of Capua, to learn what was become of Germanus their Bishop: which being done, the messenger found that reverent Prelate had departed this life, and enquiring curiously the time, he understood that he died at that very instant, in which the man of God beheld him ascending up to heaven.
It is hard to know what to make of this one. It seems obvious that Saint Benedict saw it as a vision of God or an angel taking a soul to heaven, but some ufologists point out that it could also very well be an early report of a UFO that was merely explained as something the witness was familiar with. We will probably never know. Another very early report comes to us from the year 815, in Lyons, France. Here an Archbishop Agobard wrote in his book De Grandine et Tonitruis or “About Hail and Thunder” of reports of “cloud ships” being seen flying through the sky at a place called “Magonia,” and even describes the occupants of one of these ships being captured. The Archbishop himself is rather skeptical of these reports, but he writes of it all:
We have seen and heard many people crazy enough and insane enough to believe and to state that there exists a certain region called MAGONIA, out of which ships come out and sail upon the clouds; these ships are said to transport to that same region the products of the earth that have fallen because of the hail and have been destroyed by the storm, after the value of the wheat and other products of the earth has been paid to the ‘Tempest Aires’ by the aerial navigators who have received them. We have even seen several of these crazy individuals who, believing in the reality of such absurd things, exhibited before an assembled crowd four people in chains, three men and one woman, said to have fallen down from one of these ships. They had been holding them bound for a few days when they brought them before me, followed by the multitude, in order to lapidate them. After a long argument, truth having prevailed at last, those who had shown them to the people found themselves, as a prophet says, in the same state of confusion as a robber who has been caught.
What was going on here? In that era, airships were often sighted flying about, and were usually attributed to dark sorcery, but it could also be argued that these were actually early UFO accounts explained through means that the people understood, in this case wizardry. Another case along these lines is one which allegedly occurred in the year 1092 and involves a “great circle in the sky” and demonic creatures running amok in Drutsk and Polotsk, Belarus. The account comes from Claude Lecouteux’s, Chasses fantastiques et cohortes de la nuit au Moyen Age, and begins with the great circle appearing in the middle of the sky, after which the people were terrorized by noises in the night, seemingly of devils galloping along the streets, and the appearance of evil specters running rampant. An excerpt from the text says of these bizarre events:
This year there was a very peculiar prodigy in Polotsk. At night, a great noise was heard in the street: demons ran like men and if someone went out of his house, he was hurt right away by an invisible demon with a deadly wound. No one dared to leave his house. Then the demons manifested themselves on horses in plain day: they could not be seen themselves but only the hooves of their horses. They also hurt people in Polotsk and in the neighbourhood. So it was said: “There are ghosts killing citizens in Polotsk”. These apparitions began in Droutchesk. Around this time a sign appeared in the heavens. A great circle was seen in the middle of the sky.
Were these demons or ghosts, or were they perhaps extraterrestrials and their craft, once again explained away in understandable terms to the people of the time? From the same era is a case from 1034 that appears in The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated history of the world widely regarded ss one of the best-documented early printed books. Within its pages is an illustration which is thought to be one of the earliest pictorial representation of a UFO, depicting a cigar-shaped metallic or whitish object haloed by flames, sailing through a blue sky over green, rolling countryside on a straight course from south to east and then veering toward the setting sun. There is no real explanation for it, and it is a rather odd little detail within the manuscript.
Jumping ahead into the 1500s, we come to Nuremberg, Germany, where on April 4 of that year a very strange series of events played out in the skies above the city. It started at sunrise, when residents saw above them an array of dozens, if not hundreds of flying cylindrical objects from which red, black, orange and blue white disks and globes emerged. These were joined by crosses and tubes resembling cannon barrels, spheroid UFOs were seen emerging from cylindrical ‘motherships’, and later a “black, spear-like object” appeared. it was reported that these objects seemed to be fighting against each other in a giant aerial UFO skirmish, the sky apparently filled with the machines clashing in battle. This all lasted for about an hour, when “the globes in the small and large rods flew into the sun,” several other objects crashed to the earth to vanish in thick clouds of smoke, and still others flew off out of sight. At the time the frightening display was taken as a divine warning or omen, but to modern eyes it looks like a bunch of UFOs were fighting for whatever reason. Weird stuff, indeed. A few years later, on August 7, 1566, the citizens of Basel, in Switzerland were treated to a similar sight when several dark spheres were observed over the town apparently engaged in some sort of aerial battle. One report would read of it
At the time when the sun rose, one saw many large black balls which moved at high speed in the air towards the sun, then made half-turns, banging one against the others as if they were fighting a battle out a combat, a great number of them became red and igneous, thereafter they were consumed and died out.
What was this all about? Who knows? Moving into the 17th century we have a case from August 5 1608, from Baie des Anges, Nice, France. On this evening, three luminous craft were seen to zip about doing aerial maneuvers in the sky. They were described as being long, oval in shape and flattened along their lengths, each with a “strange mast” on top. At one point they were flying so low that the water in the bay below them churned and frothed and gave off “a dense orange vapor.” Making things even more bizarre was that there then appeared two humanoid entities with heads and glowing eyes, dressed in red clothes covered with silvery scales. Each of them jumped from one of the crafts holding cables or tubes, and descended into the water, where they stayed for a time while their ship hovered above, after which they entered it again and sped off. Once again, residents at the time saw this as some sort of sign from God.
From that very same year there is another series of reports that involves UFOs and water. On August 22 1608, fishermen off the coast of Nice, France, purportedly witnessed a strange object hover over the sea to discharge a “blood-like substance” into the water. At around the same time, soldiers at a fortress along the coast saw three “vessels” descend from the sky to hover over the water, “causing a great boiling of the sea and emitting ochre-red vapor.” From these crafts emerged two humanoid beings with large heads and large luminous eyes dressed in red scaly outfits that were connected to their ship with a tube of some kind. The soldiers apparently fired their cannons at the vessels but these had no effect. Curiously, on the same day residents of Genoa, Italy observed an outlandish creature emerging from the sea right off the coast, described as humanoid, covered in scales, and with what appeared to be “snakes” protruding from its hands. Yet another water-based report comes from October of 1661, at the River Severn, near Bristol, England. On this day several witnesses reported seeing a kite-shaped cloud rise up out of the water. One report on the incident from the text Mirabilis Annus Secundus reads of what happened:
Several persons (to the number of 15 or 16) having been at a wedding, after dinner walked abroad by the riverside, some of them walked upon the bank close by the water, others of them at a greater distance, but they all, as they have since reported, saw a cloud rise up out of the water, much resembling the kites flown by local boys. It rose higher and higher until it became a direct cloud in the proper region, and as they stood looking up and gazing upon it, they plainly saw the cloud open, and therein beheld the form and proportion of a tall black man, with a thin meager countenance, who seemed to move to and fro very swiftly, and then suddenly vanished.
After this the cloud closed again and within a very little while they saw it open the second time, and then there appeared a man on horseback, who moved to and fro with great swiftness for a very short space of time, and soon disappeared, upon which the cloud immediately (as before) was shut up, but presently opening again the third time, there appeared the form of a very comely and beautiful lady, who after she had for a while moved backwards and forwards (as the other two had done before) suddenly vanished also, and then the whole cloud dispersed. None of the spectators are in the lest suspected to have any inclination to fanaticism therefore we doubt not but upon that account the relation will gain credit amongst those, who otherwise are too slow of hear to believe these things.
What are we to make of this? Moving ahead in years, on the evening of August 18, 1783 four witnesses on the terrace of Windsor Castle, in England were apparently engaged in routine and mundane work when they saw a moving oblong cloud and luminous sphere in the skies of the Home Counties of England. A report from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1784) says of the incident:
An oblong cloud moving more or less parallel to the horizon. Under this cloud could be seen a luminous object which soon became spherical, brilliantly lit, which came to a halt; this strange sphere seemed at first to be pale blue in colour but then its luminosity increased and soon it set off again towards the East. Then the object changed direction and moved parallel to the horizon before disappearing to the South-East; the light it gave out was prodigious; it lit us everything on the ground.
The 18th century even had its own UFO crash, when on June 12 1790 some peasants near Alencon, France allegedly saw an “enormous globe wrapped in flames” come shooting down out of the sky making a hissing noise. The mysterious object then slowed down and spiraled down to smash into the crest of a hill, apparently causing a brush fire in the process. A crowd of locals then gathered around the object and as they looked on a door opened in its side and out stepped a person dressed in a skintight garment. This stranger apparently looked around at the crowd before saying something in an alien, unintelligible language and running off into the woods. Apparently the crater left by the crash remained on the hillside for years but the man was never found. It is unclear what became of the UFO itself and it is all a rather odd tale lost to the mists of time.
These and others like them are all strange reports that go back well past the commonly accepted beginning of the UFO phenomenon, and show that it goes back farther into history than many might think. Are these just lore and myths, misunderstandings of common celestial phenomena, or something else? It is hard to say, but one thing we can take away from such cases is that the UFO phenomenon runs deep, and that it goes back a long, long way.