The part of the world below the sphere of the moon was subject to constant change. As the heaviest element, the sphere of earth was located lowest down, that is in the centre. The qualities of this element are cold and dry and its humour is black bile.
Its qualities are cold and moist and its humour is phlegm
Winds were viewed as sublunary atmospheric phenomena. They were sometimes interpreted positively as regulators of cosmic order.
In medieval Europe fire was important for light, heat and cooking. Fire was also used as a weapon in warfare and to evoke the sufferings of the damned in hell.
The Moon’s qualities are cold and moist. In alchemy it is associated with the metal silver. The children of the moon are fools, magicians and fishermen.
Mercury’s qualities are cold and dry. In alchemy it is associated with quicksilver (mercury). The children of Mercury are crafrsmen, travellers, doctors, scribes and illuminators.
The qualities of Venus are hot and damp. In alchemy it is associated with the metal copper. The children of Venus are lovers, musicians, dancers, and bathers.
The Sun’s qualities are hot and dry. In alchemy it is associated with gold. The children of the Sun are kings and rulers.
The qualities of Mars are hot and dry. In alchemy it is associated with the metal iron.
Jupiter’s qualities are hot and damp. In alchemy it is associated with the metal tin.
Saturn’s qualities are cold and dry. In alchemy Saturn is associated with lead (and the colour black).
The rulership of signs over the body was commonly represented in the diagram called a ‘Zodiac man’
Like all spheres above the sphere of the fixed stars the ninth sphere was transparent and lacked a celestial body. It does not appear in all models of the cosmos, and was often identified with the crystalline sphere, which then took on the role of initiating cosmic motion (a model of ten, rather than eleven spheres).
The Crystalline Sphere
A minority of authors claimed that the waters above the firmament were solid; Bede wrote that they had ‘the firmity of a crystalline stone’ and Peter Lombard argued that they needed to be solid ice to prevent them from falling into the firmament.
The Empyrean Sphere
The 14th century Augustinian Thomas of Strasbourg assigns the following four properties to this sphere: First, it is light-filled, and unlike the other celestial bodies, which receive their light from the Sun, it receives its light from God.
3D Model Further Reading
Medieval people imagined the earth to be at the still centre of a dynamic cosmos. It was enclosed within multiple transparent spheres, nested closely within one another like the layers of an onion (a popular analogy of the time).
Medieval Universe quiz
This website was designed by Dr Sophie Page (UCL). Thanks to Rakhe Mahia Abedin and Kathleen Walker Meikle for their help in developing the concepts.