The Reformir Spiegel of Heinrich Oraeus

This spectacular prophetic compilation printed in 1620 is known as the Reformir Spiegel (Mirror of Reform).  It was compiled by Heinrich Oraeus (1584-1646), who also went by the name Johannes de Hyperiis.  Oraeus studied in Strasburg and Frankfurt, then went on to work as a preacher in Rossdorf, Kesselstadt, Bruchköbel, and finally Nauheim.  His skill as a preacher brought him to the town of Hanau in 1639, where he oversaw all of the schools and churches in the region.  His literary output included theological works, Leichenpredigten – a word that translates to “corpse sermons” and refers to printed eulogies that were produced for high-ranking citizens between the 16th and 18th centuries - and, in this instance at least, prophecies.

Oraeus’ religious sympathies are apparent in the Reformir Spiegel’s title page.  Look closely at the medallions that make up the border.  The central figure in the top row depicts a saintly figure, while the central bottom figure is the beast of the apocalypse.  The religious figures on the left border are shown upright, while their counterparts on the right are upside-down.  Each figure is accompanied by a quote.  The ones on the left-hand side all emphasize the importance of faith and Christ – for example, Ambrosius’ motto is, “Faith alone is the path to holiness,” and Augustine is surrounded by the phrase, “Christ alone is the head of the Church.”  Unsurprisingly, the quotes on the right focus on excess and corruption. Pope Hildebrand’s motto is, “The word of God without the Pope is not to be believed,” and Thomas Stapleton (an English Catholic) stands before a church with the words, “It is better to have 500 whores than one true wife.”  These images illustrate the difference between the correct religious path, one that emphasizes faith and spirituality, and the false one with its delusions of temporal power and pleasure.

The Reformir Spiegel consists of a theological tract followed by five illustrated prophecies — the so-called "132 magic figures."  The prophecies proper are introduced by their own title page featuring religious imagery.  The first prophecy is Paracelsus’ interpretation of the Vaticinia de summis pontibus.  Following this is his original Prophecy for the Next Twenty-Four Years, which Oraeus says was issued in relation to the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.   Both of these prophecies appear multiple times in the Paracelsus collection, but the ones that appear in the Reformir Spiegel are distinctive.  While the versions of these prophecies that appear in other compilations have woodcut illustrations, the Reformir Spiegel’s illustrations are copperplate engravings.

The two Paracelsian prophecies are followed by yet another papal prophecy.  According to Oraeus, this was, "found in a very old Bible and written and interpreted by a monk himself.”  Many of this prophecy’s images seem to be modeled after those found in the early modern interpretations of the Genus nequam sequence in the Vaticinia.  For example, the fifteenth figure shows a figure wielding a sickle next to a flower; this could be modeled on the twentieth figure in the papal sequence, which shows a monk with a sickle and a flower.

The fourth prophecy was written by Oraeus himself, and features allegorical illustrations related to religious turbulence.  The fifth and final prophecy is a Wunderzeichenbuch: a book of “wonder signs.”  This genre focused on unusual events such as monstrous births and astronomical phenomena that were often interpreted as being portents of doom.  The one in Oraeus’ compilation depicts 72 terrible and wondrous events “in the sky, in the air, in the water, and on earth” that occurred during the godless, popish times.  The earliest event is Emperor Constantine’s expansion the power of Pope Sylvester and his Church in 318 CE, when a fearsome voice cried out from the sky, “Hodie venenum in Ecclesia seminaui (Today poison was planted in the Church).”  The latest date Oraeus provides is the comet of 1618, which is depicted in the 71st scene.  The final scene depicts a catastrophic avalanche engulfing a town, but no date is provided.