Michelangelo designed the Sistine chapel to have 7 Israeli Prophets and 5 Sibyls from the classical world. They are the largest figures in the center vaults of the ceiling seated on monumental thrones. The prophets and sibyls, one after another predicted the birth of Christ and Christianity. The Prophets; Jonah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, Isaiah and Daniel testify in the old testament of the coming of the Messiah for the people of Israel. The Sibyls are represented in the chapel to symbolize that the Messiah was to come for all of the people in the world and not just the Jews. The inclusion of the Sibyls represented non-Jewish tradition ensuring that the ceiling was not dominated by Jewish symbols.
The word Sibyl is believed to come from the Greek word Sibylla, meaning Prophetess. The people of ancient times did not distinguish the legend of the Sibyls to be fact or fiction and historical writings gave the Prophets and Sibyls equal honor. The Sibyl’s were women who devoted themselves to solitude and meditation, and sometimes lived apart in caves and grottoes. Sometimes they were messengers from the gods to the worshippers in the temples. These messages were called oracles, and were greatly revered by the people who consulted the gods. The Sibyls gave words of wisdom that were passed down to generations. The tradition was documented that they prophesied the advent of Christ. Early in the Christian era, when men were spreading the new faith, they made reference to the Sibylline prophesies to add weight to their teachings.
Michelangelo painted the Libyan Sibyl closest to the altar in the Sistine Chapel. She is putting down a book behind her. This gesture is interpreted by some as the act of putting down the book of prophesies with approach of the coming of the Messiah. According to mediaeval monks her prophecy was in part that “The day shall come when men shall see the King of all living things.”
The Sybil’s, albeit mysterious and from some writings mythological, remind us that the church teaches to treat all men with charity and honor truth wherever it is. Further, to recognize actual grace and natural virtues outside of her.
Zechariah 9:9.10 520 BC “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”