Dragons on Noah’s Ark
The tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus
Adorning the walls of Krakow Castle, Poland, is a magnificent display of royal tapestries from the 16th century. Sometimes called the ‘Jagiellonian tapestries’, most were amassed by Sigismund II Augustus (1520–1572), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Once a larger collection, the remaining 136 tapestries include 19 biblical scenes from the book of Genesis: The Story of the First Parents (seven pieces), The Story of Noah (eight pieces), and The Story of the Building of the Tower of Babel (four pieces).1
The first two sets are thought to have been ordered in the mid-1500s from Brussels and designed by Michiel Coxie (1499–1592), known as ‘the Flemish Raphael’. They were revealed to the public in 1553 during the celebrations of Sigismund’s marriage to his third wife, Catherine of Austria.2 These beautiful and intricate tapestries, some measuring up to 45 m² (450 sq. ft), are an impressive sight.
Within the eight pieces telling the story of the Flood are two tapestries showing the animals going onto and coming off Noah’s Ark. Many of them are easily recognizable as good depictions of their living counterparts today: lions, camels, cows,3 and various types of birds. But there are also animals that look distinctly like dragons.
Consistency with the biblical text
Why would the tapestries’ designer have included dragons going onto Noah’s Ark? The Latin inscription woven into the top of the tapestry reads: “Noah and all his family as well as all kinds of animals are entering the Ark, while the godless deride him. Gen. 7.” The designer is drawing on the Bible, especially Genesis 7. This chapter three times describes in detail that all the kinds of land animals and “every winged creature” (v. 14) “in which there was the breath of life” (v. 15) were to enter Noah’s Ark—then did so—before the global Flood began.
At the time of designing the Flood tapestries, numerous natural history books all referred to the very real existence of dragons (which we would now call dinosaurs and the like—see box). As a modern-day secular book states: “The evidence [for dragons] is not confined to works of natural history and literature but appears in everyday chronicles of events … . And such eyewitness accounts are not derived from hearsay or anonymous rumour; they were set down by people of some standing, by kings and knights, monks and archbishops, scholars and saints”.4
So the artist, wanting to be wholly consistent with the biblical text, included dragons on his list of animals shown entering the Ark. He would not likely have been familiar with them personally, since at that time only a few of these now-extinct animals would have still been in existence. He would have had to rely upon the materials available to him in the 1500s, whose depictions of dragons had by then been increasingly embellished over the centuries. This embellishment is reflected in the dragons on the tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus, but even these still have discernible dinosaurian features.
Lessons for today
The tapestry reinforces the fact that the Bible gives us a framework for looking at the natural world around us. When it so unambiguously states that all the kinds of land animals and winged creatures went onto Noah’s Ark, this categorically means dinosaurs went onto the Ark, too. And our representations of this episode in biblical history should not shy away from depicting this.
To do so is to capitulate to the secular view that the Bible’s history is mythological, and that dinosaurs were already extinct before people appeared. In that view, dinosaurs/dragons, along with all the death and suffering their fossils portray, lived and became extinct long before people, contradicting the Bible’s teaching of a once-perfect world ruined by human sin. So the question of whether or not to show dinosaurs and pterosaurs entering the Ark is not some minor issue, but involves the credibility of the Bible and the Gospel itself.
The Bible plainly says that all kinds of creatures, including dinosaurs and people, were created within six days, so there is no room for any ‘prehistory’. Including dinosaurs in pictures of animals entering the Ark starkly makes that point, and can be a great conversation-starter.
Conversely, having only ‘familiar’ animals entering it, like lions, giraffes and pelicans, tends to reinforce the idea that this is some sort of ‘Aesop’s fable’ story, invented by people who simply didn’t know about fossils.
In our time, we have more knowledge of the issues than did the tapestry artist, who was nonetheless doing his best to be faithful to the Bible. We should do no less.
Dragons: The dinosaur link
Dragons have been written about as real, living creatures, and depicted on many different items for the past few thousand years among people groups from every continent.1
While there is no doubt that some elements of these writings and depictions of dragons have had embellishments and mythological elements added, more so as time went on, such a consistent array of testimony over thousands of years testifies to the truth of their existence. This makes sense; the many similarities of dragon features to those of dinosaurs and other now-extinct reptiles known from the fossil record is not a coincidence. ‘Dragon’ was simply a colloquial term for them.
The fossils of these ‘dragons’ are not millions of years old. They were entombed by the Flood, 1656 years after the creation of all things. Since their ‘rediscovery’ in the early 1800s, we now call them dinosaurs, or winged reptiles such as pterosaurs. As non-aquatic creatures, representatives of each of their kinds (presumably immature ones for the very large types) had to have boarded the Ark. This explains why they were written about as still-living animals for many centuries after the Flood.
One of the best books ever on this topic, with stunning photographic evidence, is Dire Dragons from the Untold secrets of Planet Earth series.
References and notes
- Grigg, R., Dinosaurs and dragons: stamping on the legends, Creation 14(3):10–14. 1992; creation.com/dinolegends.
References and notes
- Piwocka, M., The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus, Wawel Royal Castle State Art Collections, Krakow, 2007. Return to text.
- Fabianski, M., On King, Priest, and Wanton Girls: Looking at Flemish Renaissance Tapestries in Krakow, Source: Notes in the History of Art 29(2):8– 14, Winter 2010. Return to text.
- Modern creationists recognize that such modern-day animals were not on the Ark as such, being varieties of the kinds that were created—see creation.com/arkanimals. Return to text.
- Hogarth, P. and Clery, V., Dragons, New York, Viking Press, pp. 13– 14, 1979. Return to text.