The 1561 celestial phenomenon over Nuremberg was a mass sighting of celestial phenomena or unidentified flying objects (UFO) above Nuremberg, Germany.
The phenomenon has been interpreted by some modern UFO enthusiasts as an aerial battle of extraterrestrial origin. This view is mostly dismissed by sceptics, some referencing Carl Jung’s mid-twentieth century writings about the subject while others find the phenomenon is likely to be a sun dog.
A broadsheet news article printed in April 1561 describes a mass sighting of celestial phenomena. The broadsheet, illustrated with a woodcut engraving and text by Hans Glaser, measures 26.2 centimetres (10.3 in) by 38.0 centimetres (15.0 in). The document is archived in the prints and drawings collection at the Zentralbibliothek Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland.
According to the broadsheet, around dawn on 14 April 1561, residents of Nuremberg saw what they described as an aerial battle, followed by the appearance of a large black triangular object and then a large crash outside of the city. The broadsheet claims that witnesses observed hundreds of spheres, cylinders and other odd-shaped objects that moved erratically overhead.
The broadsheet describes objects of various shapes including crosses, globes, two lunar crescents, a black spear and tubular objects from which several smaller, round objects emerged and darted around the sky at dawn.
The text of the broadsheet can be translated as giving the following description of the event:
“In the morning of April 14, 1561, at daybreak, between 4 and 5 a.m., a dreadful apparition occurred on the sun, and then this was seen in Nuremberg in the city, before the gates and in the country – by many men and women. At first there appeared in the middle of the sun two blood-red semi-circular arcs, just like the moon in its last quarter. And in the sun, above and below and on both sides, the color was blood, there stood a round ball of partly dull, partly black ferrous color. Likewise there stood on both sides and as a torus about the sun such blood-red ones and other balls in large number, about three in a line and four in a square, also some alone. In between these globes there were visible a few blood-red crosses, between which there were blood-red strips, becoming thicker to the rear and in the front malleable like the rods of reed-grass, which were intermingled, among them two big rods, one on the right, the other to the left, and within the small and big rods there were three, also four and more globes. These all started to fight among themselves, so that the globes, which were first in the sun, flew out to the ones standing on both sides, thereafter, the globes standing outside the sun, in the small and large rods, flew into the sun. Besides the globes flew back and forth among themselves and fought vehemently with each other for over an hour. And when the conflict in and again out of the sun was most intense, they became fatigued to such an extent that they all, as said above, fell from the sun down upon the earth ‘as if they all burned’ and they then wasted away on the earth with immense smoke. After all this there was something like a black spear, very long and thick, sighted; the shaft pointed to the east, the point pointed west. Whatever such signs mean, God alone knows. Although we have seen, shortly one after another, many kinds of signs on the heaven, which are sent to us by the almighty God, to bring us to repentance, we still are, unfortunately, so ungrateful that we despise such high signs and miracles of God. Or we speak of them with ridicule and discard them to the wind, in order that God may send us a frightening punishment on account of our ungratefulness. After all, the God-fearing will by no means discard these signs, but will take it to heart as a warning of their merciful Father in heaven, will mend their lives and faithfully beg God, that He may avert His wrath, including the well-deserved punishment, on us, so that we may temporarily here and perpetually there, live as his children. For it, may God grant us his help, Amen. By Hanns Glaser, letter-painter of Nurnberg.”
According to author Jason Colavito, the woodcut broadsheet became known in modern culture after being published in Carl Jung’s 1958 book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, a book which analysed the archetypal meaning of UFOs. More recently, the event has been classified as a UFO sighting by many, and even named the “UFO Battle over Nuremberg” by a few enthusiasts.
Jung expressed a view that the spectacle was likely a natural phenomenon with religious and military interpretations overlaying it. “If the UFOs were living organisms, one would think of a swarm of insects rising with the sun, not to fight one another but to mate and celebrate the marriage flight.” A military interpretation would view the tubes as cannons and the spheres as cannonballs, emphasize the black spearhead at the bottom of the scene, and Glaser’s own testimony that the globes fought vehemently until exhausted. A religious view would emphasize the crosses. Jung thinks the images of four globes coupled by lines suggested crossed marriage quaternities and forms the model for “the primitive cross cousin marriage”. It could also be an individuation symbol. The association of sunrise suggests “the revelation of the light”.
Otto Billig made an effort to provide a historical context for the apparition in his comments. He notes Nuremberg was one of the most prestigious cities of the late Middle Ages, a “Free and Imperial City” known for its wealth and nobility. It tried to maintain a neutrality during the furious warring between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, but when one Protestant prince was rebuffed when he insisted on financial tributes to fund his battles, the city was besieged and its trade cut off. Though ultimately successful in defending itself, the rebuilding of fortifications in Nuremberg necessitated a new round of taxation and the city suffered hard times in its aftermath.
On Good Friday 1554 another siege had happened, and one broadsheet publisher described mock suns that prognosticated God’s will wanted confession of sinful ways – i.e. the victims brought it on themselves. Another sky apparition followed in July of knights fighting each other with fiery swords, thus warning a coming Day of Judgment.
Very similar apparitions of knights fighting in the skies were frequently reported during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).
Many similar broadsheets of wondrous signs exist in German and Swiss archives; and Nuremberg seems the focus of a number of them, presumably because of the hardships and conflicts of the ex-prosperous. Such conditions typically accentuate apocalyptic thought.
The 1566 celestial phenomenon over Basel was a series of events on 27-28 July and 07 August 1566 reported in a Flugblatt (an early form of newspaper) as occurred in Basel, where red and black spheres have led an apparent battle in the sky.