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Dragons on Noah’s Ark

The tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus

by

Wawel-1
A portion of the tapestry: Animals embarking the Ark, Brussels, c. 1550, © Wawel Castle, Cracow, Photo by Lukasz Schuster.
Wawel-2
A portion of the tapestry: Disembarking from the Ark, Brussels, c. 1550, © Wawel Castle, Cracow, Photo by Lukasz Schuster.

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 (15201572), 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

Dire-dragons

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

  1. Grigg, R., Dinosaurs and dragons: stamping on the legends, Creation 14(3):10–14. 1992; creation.com/dinolegends.

References and notes

  1. Piwocka, M., The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus, Wawel Royal Castle State Art Collections, Krakow, 2007. Return to text.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Hogarth, P. and Clery, V., Dragons, New York, Viking Press, pp. 13 14, 1979. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Guide to Dinosaurs
by Brian Thomas and Tim Clarey
US $17.00
Hard cover
Dinosaurs by Design
by Duane T Gish
US $16.00
Hard cover

Readers’ comments

Egil W.
In many medieval bestiaries there are depictions of animals, called dragons, basilisks, cockatrices, scitalises, wyrms, serpents (meant in very broad sense - like ‘reptile’ today), which has obvious basic anatomical body-plan resembling theropods.That is remarkable, because no other animal really has this body-plan/basic anatomy. Bishops Bells sauropod-looking creatures are also a favourite of mine. Since there is no connection whatsoever with ancient Egypt (which was excavated post-Napoleon), - where there also are depictions of creatures with a roughly sauropodian anatomy, - and also from ancient Sumer, it seems completely absurd to think of some ‘conspiracy to fool modern paleontologists’. (Also ancient China have some interesting drawings and sculptures in this direction). The evidence is obvious: sauropods and theropods lived with humans up to at least 400 years ago, when they seemed to have dwindled in numbers and died out like the Moa-bird and Aurochs. Thanks for a stream of continual Bible-affirming articles and books. Keep it up!
Philip Robinson
Thanks for taking the time to read the article. There are many such examples on the CMI website, such as Bishop Bell's brass Behemoths that you mentioned, or the Stegosaur carved in a stone pillar in the Angkor complex, Cambodia. There are even more examples, some of which will hopefully be published in the near future, so please come back!
Andrew S.
Several years ago while paging through a "coffee table book", I ran across a picture that caught my attention. It had the caption: "The legends tell of the expulsion of snakes from Ireland by St. Patrick — the scene is depicted in this window at Magheralin parish church in County Down." What is especially interesting is how a "snake" (serpent or dragon?) is depicted; it has a green, scaly, reptilian body with the head of a cat (also green), showing one front leg, a long sinuous tail with spikes/triangular plates, and wings—not a typical snake picture. The description dates the window to 1908 by Michael Healy (1873-1941). I snapped a photo of the picture in the book. My description is based on my photo from the book.I don't remember this image ever being addressed in any "dragons and man" information from creationist sources and thought that if it is a new source it may be useful to investigate further.
Philip Robinson
Thanks for the information. If the picture is from 1908, and depicting the legend of the expulsion of the snakes by St. Patrick (alleged to have happened some 1500 years beforehand), then unlike the artist in the article above, they are not trying to depict something that they had actually seen, or that they thought lived in their own time. However, as it is not too far from where I live in Northern Ireland, I will go and take a look at the window myself and do some further investigation. Thanks again!
James H.
I don't understand why modern dinosaurs living with man would be such a blow to evolution. Yes, I know their narrative that dinosaurs died out long ago from an extinction event, but admitting some dinosaurs have existed with man would only nullify the particular extinction narrative and not have much effect on their theory in general. Their fantasy narratives get changed around all the time, so why do they hold to the dinosaur one in spite of so much evidence to the contrary like what is mentioned in this article? They say we evolved from apes and apes exist today. So according to their theory, why couldn't some dinosaurs still exist recently? They make themselves look bad by ignoring so many historical records.
Philip Robinson
Dinosaurs are one of the key propaganda items used to convince people (especially kids) of evolution and millions of years. To suddenly change that narrative and admit that they didn't die out millions of years ago in the manner in which they have stated would be a big blow to that propaganda. Probably not insurmountable though, as people believe in evolution because of their worldview, and as has been demonstrated many times, even when the story does change, for example see: Grass-eating dinosaurs, they still hold to the over-arching belief system and meta-narrative. I agree that make themselves look bad by ignoring all of the historical accounts of dinosaurs.

In relation to evolutionists saying, "we evolved from apes and apes exist today", it is important to fairly represent what they actually teach. They instead teach that modern apes and humans derive from a common ancestor, which is why we see both today. It is this 'idea' that you will find many articles on the CMI website showing both the impossibility of such a notion, and the major theological issues with anyone who would claim that God was somehow involved in this process. See for example: Did humans evolve from apes? and the related articles.
Terry C.
[I've] seen where there's a Roman map that shows a dinosaur like creature on it, along with a Synagogue depicting a dinosaur like creature on it. Along with reports and cave painting of dinosaur like creatures. so it's very possible that dinosaurs or dragons were on Noah's ark.
Chris M.
Marco Polo wrote in his book about encountering “dragons” when he was exploring China. He describes them being about 30 feet long an 8ft in height with large claws and teeth. He even talks about the ways the people of that time hunted them. And this was only back during the 13th century. I’d say anyone now days would [not] be able to describe an animal this large and ferioucious as he does.
Philip Robinson
You can read Marco Polo's description in his book The Travels of Marco Polo, and other historical dragon/dinosaur descriptions in Dinosaurs and dragons: stamping on the legends.
Paul M.
I note that many of the dragons depicted in ancient art are more fanciful and detailed than what we recognise as modern dinosaurs. Not merely ornamental, but anatomically winged or multi tendrilled, especially in Asian art where they are depicted with multiple facial flourishes and longer serpentine bodies. I wonder if there is some basis for such anatomy that we have lost in the fossil record (such as skin markings, colours, soft tissue)? Most of today's reconstructions are akin to large monotone alligators or Tuataras. Also the 'spitting dragons' or full blown fire-breathing legends, was a steaming or smoking venom of some sort feasible?
Vance N.
Regarding the comment by James H. about the extinction of dinosaurs:

As both you and Phil pointed out, evolutionism is a faith-based sysyem, so in the end, they will continue to believe in molecules-to-man evolution.

However, in the 3rd. Edition of my book Dire Dragons, I explain why the “Cretaceous Survival” theory doesn’t work to explain evidence for the recent existence of certain depictions. For example, I show multiple examples of Permian and Triassic reptiles that were supposedly long extinct (according to evolution) by the Cretaceous Period. Therefore they couldn’t have survived through the Cretaceous into the present, been seen by modern mankind and depicted. In other words, the survival theory has been refuted. For more details see pages 30-31 of the 3rd Edition of Dire Dragons, available from CMI.
Claudius P.
Dare I say that most creationists have got the Noah story of dinosaurs wrong ! Dare I say that there were NO dinosaurs in the Ark ! Dare I say that ONE of GOD'S purpose for the world wide flood was to kill off the dinosaurs on planet earth -as they had served their purpose. Dare I ask if anyone knows what that purpose could have been ? And finally dare I answer that the flesh of billions of dead fish and all the other dinosaur creatures provided earth's soil with calcium and many nutrients that fertilised our soil so that we can enjoy our Sunday salads today ! Billions of tons of dead plants produced coal and oil for energy .etc.etc.
Philip Robinson
Thanks for your comment, but dare I say that the source material for our explanations on the history of dinosaurs and their existence alongside humanity are quite likely different. My starting place (source material) is the Bible which gives me the overview of what happened in relation to Noah's Ark and the animals alive at that time. The Bible is quite clear that all air breathing land animals were taken onto Noah's Ark (Genesis 7:14-16), so this would have categorically included the dinosaurs. As we find dinosaurs in sedimentary rock layers laid down by the flood we know that they were alive at the time of Noah, and there is lots of evidence for dinosaurs living alongside mankind after the Flood. For example, the Behemoth, (most likely a large Sauropod dinosaur), found in Job 40, and the many depictions described on this website. There is no indication in the Bible at all that one of God's purposes for the Flood was to 'kill off the dinosaurs', nor that 'they had served their purpose'. I would encourage you to 'be like a Berean' (Acts 17:11), read the Flood account in Genesis carefully, alongside Job 40, and the many articles on dinosaurs on this website.
Neil G.
I am no art critic or imagery analyst, but I find it interesting that the post flood tapestry, in addition to dragon-like critters, also depicts what appears to be mud-caked corpses of at least eight humans along with the eight members of Noah’s family. I understand this tapestry is not a first-hand snapshot of the flood event. However, given the presence of recognizable creatures, what appears to be detritus, and the logical, or at least understandable, presumption by the weaver that there could be human remains, seems rather telling of the weaver’s understanding of the event. Why invest so much time adding those seemingly realistic details I mentioned above, only to add fantastical, dragon-like creatures, unless it was reasonable to the artist that those dragons were logically assumed by the artist to be present as well? Thank you for posting this article!
Lance T.
I wish you would show the picture of the dragons on Noahs Ark without the square box on it, OK?
Philip Bell
Click on this link.

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