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The Toledo Letter (1184)
A letter supposedly written by the astrologers of Toledo and addressed to Pope Clement III began circulating throughout Europe in 1184. It predicted the end of the world would occur in September 1186. It said there would be wind and storms, drought and famine, pestilence and earthquake. The air would grow dark and a dreadful voice would be heard that would destroy the hearts of men. Coastal towns would be covered with sand and earth. All this would be triggered by a rare conjunction of the planets in the sign of the Scales and in the tail of the Dragon. People were advised to flee their homes and find safety in the mountains.

The letter caused panic throughout Europe. The Archbishop of Canterbury ordered a 3-day fast to prevent the calamity. When September 1186 arrived, the planetary conjunction did occur on schedule, but the end of the world never happened. Nevertheless, some attribute the Third Crusade of 1189 to the unrest stirred up by the letter.

This was not the end of the Toledo Letter. Variants of it continued to circulate for centuries, with names and dates altered. A version from around 1214, which attributed the text to a Cardinal Johannes Toletanus, warned of the end of the world in 1229, citing the same rare planetary conjunction as the reason. By the end of the fourteenth century the text was attributed to the Magisters in Paris, though the content of the warning remained essentially the same. Even as late as 1480 it was still in circulation, now attributed to a Mount Sinai hermit and a Rasis of Antiochia, who warned the end would come in 1510.

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PseudoscienceHoaxes of the Middle AgesAstronomy


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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.