Unparalleled Spaceships or Just Artistic Symbols?

Halley’s Comet: Inspiration for the Divine

Detail of Crucifixion fresco from Visoki Dečani Monastery, 14th century — WikiCommons Image — https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crucifixion_-_Visoki_De%C4%8Dani_Monastery_Detail.png

In the divine artistry of Serbian medieval frescoes, hidden among the sacred iconography and celestial symbolism, lie possible representations that find their genesis in one of the most awe-inspiring celestial events — the passage of a comet. These luminous, ephemeral visitors from the depths of space have long captured the human imagination, their fleeting brilliance etching an indelible mark on our collective consciousness.

Among the treasured frescoes that adorn the hallowed walls of Serbian monasteries, two stand out as potential testaments to the profound impact of a comet’s passage. The first, the fresco of Christ’s Crucifixion in the Visoki Dečani Monastery, and the second, the frescoes from the Our Lady of Ljeviš (Bogorodica Ljeviška) in Prizren, bear intriguing representations of the Sun and Moon that defy conventional depictions.

The Visoki Dečani Monastery

The Visoki Dečani Monastery, a monumental Serbian Orthodox monastery nestled in the Metohija valley, is a masterpiece of 14th-century Serbian architecture and fresco artistry. Amid its stunning frescoes, the representation of Christ’s Crucifixion on the north wall demands particular attention. Here, the Sun and Moon are not mere celestial orbs, but dynamic entities enclosed within “droplet” envelopes adorned with radiating elements that evoke a sense of movement.

The Crucifixion of Christ — Visoki Dečani Monastery — WikiCommons Image — https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Crucifixion_of_Christ_-_Visoki_De%C4%8Dani_Monastery.jpg

The Sun, its rounded side facing the central axis, is depicted with six rays emanating from its sharp edge, creating an impression of motion toward the crucifixion scene. Likewise, the Moon, its three rays emanating from its rounded portion, appears to be moving away from the central axis. These opposing yet synchronous movements lend a captivating dynamism to the composition, hinting at a deeper, astronomical inspiration.

Detail of Crucifixion fresco from Visoki Dečani Monastery, 14th century — WikiCommons Image — https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Crucifixion_of_Christ_-_Visoki_De%C4%8Dani_Monastery.jpg


Within the Sun’s “droplet” envelope sits the figure of young Helios, the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology, clad in a chiton and facing slightly away from the viewer. Inside the Moon’s representation, the youthful Selene, the Greek goddess of the Moon, gazes towards Helios, her back turned to the central axis, creating a celestial dialogue between the two celestial bodies.

This unconventional depiction finds its precedent in the frescoes of the Bogorodica Ljeviška, a five-domed cathedral in the heart of Prizren, built between 1306 and 1307 and painted from 1308 to 1314. Here, the representations of the Sun and Moon in the exonarthex bear a striking resemblance to those in Visoki Dečani, both in their “droplet” forms and the radiating elements that imbue them with a sense of movement.

Fresco detail — Bogorodica Ljeviška — WikiCommons Image

What could have inspired these unconventional representations, diverging from the traditional static depictions of celestial bodies?

One plausible explanation lies in the celestial visitor that graced the skies of Europe in 1301 — Halley’s Comet.

Halley’s Comet

This periodic comet, known for its brilliant displays and captivating tails, made a remarkable appearance in 1301, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of the era. The frescoes of the Bogorodica Ljeviška created mere years after the comet’s passage, may have drawn inspiration from this awe-inspiring celestial event, leading the artists to infuse the representations of the Sun and Moon with comet-like forms and radiating elements, evoking the memory of the comet’s ethereal beauty and movement across the heavens.

Christ Pantocrator and the heavenly powers — Bogorodica Ljeviška, Prizren — WikiCommons

This artistic interpretation finds a parallel in the work of the renowned Italian painter Giotto, who, while painting the fresco “Adoration of the Magi” in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua between 1303 and 1306, depicted the Star of Bethlehem as a comet — a direct reference to the recent passage of Halley’s Comet in 1301.

Giotto — “Adoration of the Magi” — Cappella degli Scrovegni — WikiCommons Image

The frescoes in Visoki Dečani, painted from 1347 to 1348, may have drawn inspiration from the earlier works in Bogorodica Ljeviška, preserving the memory of the comet’s passage. Among the group of masters who adorned the monastery’s walls, those who witnessed the comet as children in 1301, now in their 50s and 60s, likely held positions of authority and influence.

Their vivid recollections of the celestial spectacle, combined with the existing model from Bogorodica Ljeviška, could have inspired the “cometary” forms given to the Sun and Moon in Visoki Dečani.

Celestial events

These artistic representations serve as a testament to the profound impact celestial events can have on human culture and artistic expression. The fleeting beauty of a comet, once witnessed, can become etched into collective memory, transcending generations and finding expression in the most sacred of artistic mediums.

Beyond their potential astronomical origins, these unconventional depictions of the Sun and Moon hold deeper symbolic significance within the context of Serbian medieval art and Christian iconography.


The Sun, often symbolizing Christ as the “Sun of Justice” and the divine light radiating love and illumination, takes on a dynamic, comet-like form, perhaps reflecting the transitory nature of Christ’s earthly presence and the radiant impact of his teachings.

The Moon, traditionally associated with the feminine principle, renewal, and dependence on the Sun’s reflected light, also assumes a comet-like appearance, mirroring the Sun’s movement and suggesting a cosmic dance between the two celestial bodies — a celestial metaphor for the harmonious interplay between the divine and the earthly, the masculine and the feminine.


These frescoes, with their celestial motifs and potential comet-inspired representations, serve as a poignant reminder of the enduring dialogue between humanity and the cosmos. They stand as a testament to our innate desire to comprehend and interpret the celestial wonders that grace our skies, weaving them into our artistic and cultural tapestries.

As our eyes trace the artistry adorning Serbia’s medieval monasteries, do we not see the profound connection between the terrestrial and celestial realms mirrored in these frescoes?

The ephemeral beauty of a comet’s passage through the night sky is eternalized in the enduring artistic expression. Do these sacred works not beckon us to ponder the cosmic mysteries that have enthralled generations before us? Even within hallowed sanctuaries, the heavens have left their indelible influence. What deeper truths about our place in the cosmos might these celestial metaphors reveal, if we open our minds to decipher them?

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