Back in 2012, I got (briefly) excited by the hypothesis that the marginalia on f116v of the Voynich Manuscript might well have been added in the library of a monastery not too far from Lake Constance, inbetween Switzerland and Southern Germany (and not too far from Rudolf II’s Imperial Court at Prague, where the manuscript appears to have ended up).

And then a few days later I got excited all over again by the follow-on hypothesis that this Swiss library may have been part of a Franciscan monastery. If the “bearer” who brought the Voynich Manuscript to Rudolf’s court (and to whom Rudolf paid the wondrous sum of 400 ducats) was himself/herself a Franciscan friar/nun, that might help explain its attribution to Franciscan monk Roger Bacon.

It’s a plausible story, sure, though not necessarily a highly probable one for the moment. But all the same, this might possibly give us a good idea for a brand new kind of haystack to rake through…

Franciscan Monasteries in Switzerland

St. Francis famously exhorted his followers to study in ways whereby “the spirit of prayer and devotion was not extinguished”: which makes it likely that just about every Franciscan monastery and friary we could consider would contain a library of some sort.

Indeed, some Swiss Franciscan monasteries had very famous libraries: Schaffhausen had a chained library (“Kettenbibliothek”, if you want to search for “Kettenbuch” in German). Here’s what the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana later looked like (a little later) with all its chained books:

chained library

Chaining books actually freed them, by making them available to more people to study: so it’s entirely possible that the Voynich Manuscript had a chained wooden cover for part of its pre-Rudolfine life. Here’s what an individual Kettenbuch from 1484 looks like:-


The Schaffhausen Ministerialbibliothek was (if I translate the nice German account of it here correctly) formed in 1540, manuscripts mainly from the Benedictine Allerheiligen (All Saints) monastery library, but also “eight manuscripts and six incunabula” from the Franciscan chained library (formed in 1509). Books (such as Erasmus’ Omnia Opera) were added from 1540 onwards.

How do we know this? Because of a library catalogue (“Chronik der Stadt und Landschaft Schaffhausen”) prepared by Johann Jakob Rüeger (1548-1606) in 1589, then updated in 1596, and apparently printed in 1884-1892 (it seems to have been partially converted into a database on, but I’m don’t have a subscription to that). You can see many individual pages in the extract of a modern book here (with a fair bit on the Schaffhausen Franciscan library on pp.45-47).

Here are some other Swiss Franciscan monasteries that had libraries:

* Fribourg Monastery. According to this page (with links to 13 digital copies of mss from there):-

The library contains about 35,000 volumes, 10,000 of which date from before 1900. The majority of the books can be accessed via a card catalog. The old library can be traced back to Guardian Friedrich von Amberg; 18 of his volumes have been preserved. During the monastery’s golden age in the 15th century, the superiors collected mainly sermon and study literature. The Franciscan Monastery was able to preserve its library on site; it contains 80 medieval and 100 post-medieval volumes of manuscripts (not catalogued), as well as 136 incunabula and 80 post-incunabula.

* Lindau island had a convent of the Third Order of St Francis: this survived the Protestant Reformation by converting to Protestantism.
* Konstanz
* Bellinzona
* Bremgarten (Aargau)
* Königfelden Abbey
* Wesemlin, Lucerne (has the Provinzarchiv der Schweizer Kapuziner, though presumably this was slightly later?)

…and doubtless a fair few others besides.

Clearly, this looks like it could be a substantial set of haystacks to be going through to find a single Voynichian needle. Is there anything out there that can help us?

A Swiss Needle Magnet?

It seems that there might be, in the form of the three-volume Handbuch der Historischen Buchbestände in der Schweitz that lists numerous ancient Swiss libraries, many of which have descriptions of historic catalogues of those libraries.

* Volume #1: Aargau Canton to Jura Canton
* Volume #2: “>Lucerne Canton to Thurgau Canton
* Volume #3: Uri Canton to Zürich Canton

Unfortunately, only volume #2 of this is currently online (I think, but please correct me if I’m wrong!); and many collections that might reasonably be listed are (according to the German Wikipedia page) absent. Moreover, lots of the interesting stuff is in journals such as Helvetia Franciscana that are not currently online, e.g.

* Schweizer, Christian: Kapuziner-Bibliotheken in der Deutschschweiz und Romandie–Bibliothekslandschaften eines Reform-Bettelordens seit dem 16. Jahrhundert in der Schweiz nördlich der Alpen. In: Helvetia Franciscana 30/1 (2001), S.63
* Mayer, Beda: Der Grundstock der Bibliothek des Klosters Wesemlin. In: Helvetia Franciscana 7 (1958), S.189
* Mayer, Bea: Kapuzinerkloster Freiburg, In: Die Kapuzinerklöster Vorderösterreichs. In: Helvetia Franciscana 12, 7. Heft (1976), S. 207-216.

…along with other journals such as Librarium which (thankfully) have been placed online, e.g.

* Kronenberger, Hildegard: Das Kapuzinerkloster Wesemlin in Luzern und seine Bibliothek. In: Librarium 9 (1966), S.2

And the bigger problem is this: because the Voynich Manuscript had without much doubt left its (probably monastic) library by (say) 1613 or so, what we actually would like is a list of pre-1613 Swiss Franciscan monastic inventories to have a look at, based on the small (but likely non-zero) likelihood that one of them might well list a reference to a book resembling the Voynich Manuscript. Yet this was (I think) not at all the challenge the Handbuch der Historischen Buchbestände in der Schweitz was set up to meet at all.

But… are there any of those old inventories from Franciscan monasteries still in existence all? Personally, my head’s still spinning from trying to take in all this stuff, to the point that I’m still a very long way from being able to tell. But perhaps Cipher Mysteries readers will fare better than me (even one would be nice)… good luck!

48 thoughts on “Franciscan monasteries in Switzerland 1450-1610…

  1. bdid1dr on January 7, 2016 at 4:58 pm said:

    Nick, several weeks ago we had a brief note from “Sally Caves”:. Yesterday, I was able to find her. She is a Professor in the Department of English, University of Rochester, New York.
    I think you may find her work very interesting, (mostly — northern medieval literatures with an early emphasis on language, linguistics, and poetic structure).
    Whether or not it has anything to do with our “Voynich’ tales –one item is her writing a screenplay for “Star Wars” Her resume’ is much too long for me to be able to cite.

  2. bdid1dr on January 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm said:

    Question: Why are you focusing on Swiss or Northern Europe manuscripts for comparison with Spanish manuscripts (whether Franciscan, Augustinian, or Dominican. Is there, perhaps, a dearth of information because of the actions of the Spanish Inquisition?

  3. bdid1dr on January 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm said:

    Some of my queries are spurred by my father’s response when I asked him why New York City had parades which turned into street fighting on Easter and Thanksgiving . His response was that his ‘daddy’ was an Orange Man.
    Ever since, I’ve been following up on his response — some 60 years later. My Scots-Irish father was referring to the Prince of Orange’s invasions (Holland? England?) Perhaps Rene has some understanding of my dad’s family background?

  4. Out*of*the*Blue on January 7, 2016 at 10:03 pm said:

    My first thought here is about the similarities between Oresme’s illustration of the cosmos, centered on a three element sphere, and the similar VMs illustration put forth by Ellie Velinska. There *hasta be* some sort of relationship there. Nebuly line and all.

  5. Out*of*the*Blue on January 8, 2016 at 6:20 pm said:

    Besides the Oresme connection, I suggest another look at the so called “nymphs” of VMs White Aries – specifically a look at the ‘head gear’. A number of figures seem to be wearing hats of a sort that I have identified with the galero. Beside the red galero which I have identified in connection with Fieschi heraldry, which was historically originated in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the church by a Fieschi pope, there are also examples of similar ‘head gear’ that was left unpainted. And I have called these white galeros.

    Red galeros identify a rank, that of cardinal, in the church hierarchy, White galeros designate a separate order within the church. Originally founded as Norbertines, the order is later known as the Premonstratensians or White Canons.
    They flourished early on, monks and nuns, but you can check it yourself. Why limit the investigation to only Franciscans? Various groups arose within the church (1200-1500); some have subsequently faltered. But in the 15th century, many were still active.

  6. Donald V. on January 9, 2016 at 2:56 pm said:

    The reason for the focus on Swiss and southern European manuscripts lies in the obvious visual similarities with such works. Despite your efforts to prove Bilingual Spanish/Nahuatl origins there are no more than passing similarities in the plant depictions and certainly no similarities in the other imagery.
    The biggest issue with regards to the Voynich Manuscript is that most, if not all current theories disregard Reduction and rely on ad hoc hypotheses, and Cherry picking to prove the presenters bias.
    This issue has become a major problem for true study, Something that our gracious host has posited. While some of the more outlandish theories such as extra terrestrials are easy to disregard, others are simply misdirection that lead others down an ever more convoluted labyrinth.
    Put ten Voynich researchers into a room and you will likely have ten different theories, logically they cannot all be true, and even if they each had a kernel of truth its likely they would all be wrong.
    With all that said the Voynich is a Human artifact which can make reality more complicated than a mere natural process, but until we have falsified the most simple explanation we cannot hope to even try tackle a more complex solution.

  7. bdid1dr on January 9, 2016 at 5:08 pm said:

    @ Ootb: Now yer talkin ! Are you going to be able to translate the words which accompany any illustration in the so-called “Voynich” folios? I’m hoping to see actual translations of the dialogues, rather than the endless references to historical similarities. I bet I’m not the only person who would like to see translations rather than comparisons with older, ‘similar’ manuscript writings.


  8. Donald V: thanks for the hat tip – may I ask which kind of “reduction” do you mean? As with Voynich theories, there are plenty of variants to choose from. 😐

  9. Donald Vaughn on January 9, 2016 at 7:58 pm said:

    Perhaps not a precise use of the term, I am using it in the sense of methodological reduction.
    Voynich hypothesists often attempt to fit the Manuscript into a theory rather than seeking simple understanding of each of the parts thereby validating or refuting their theory.
    If one looks at it long enough, the Voynich manuscript will fit it into any theory an individual might have. A pet theory is good until the individual disregards any simpler explanation to the contrary, especially when it misdirects others
    The simplest explanation is likely to be the right answer. I don’t have an answer to the Manuscript, and any time I have developed a theory on it I have had to throw it out because it fails to explain the whole.

  10. Donald V: I would politely object to that last Occam’s-Razor-like bit, by pointing out that people have provided no end of explanations that are extremely simple yet have precisely zero chance of being even remotely correct (e.g. natural language, language of a lost civilization, aliens left it behind, etc). Voynichese presents a good number of unusually odd behaviours which match none of the boxes people tend to expect: so unfortunately there is likely to be rather more complexity behind its text than most people are comfortable with. Oh well!

  11. Out*of*the*Blue on January 10, 2016 at 1:26 am said:


    I have not developed any functional theory as to *how* to read the written VMs text. What my investigations in heraldry seem to do is to suggest a *where* to read the VMs text, That, specifically, is the outer circular band of text in the White Aries illustration. It is a text segment with a number of unusual characteristics. I am sure your detailed, step by step translation would be of great interest to many of us.

  12. bdid1dr on January 10, 2016 at 4:48 pm said:

    @ Ootb:
    In previous years (4? 5?) I’ve offered letter-by-letter-word-for-word translations of many of the folios. I translated them from Nahuatl to Spanish to Latin to English. I’ve explained the many uses of the very large elaborate ‘P’ (the syllables which can be read depending on the number of loops and twists which appear — (parallel) (person) (portion) (prescription) (purpose)…… Physalis Ixocarpus is, by far, my favorite. I’ve also x-m-n-d the eus of the ‘q’ . You will find no word such as quantity or quality written as I’ve just written; rather you will find q-n-ti-tl or q-ll-tl
    So, take it or leave it. Just don’t obsess. Can you sp-ll the word ‘obsess’ in Spanish and/or Na-u-a-tl ?

  13. bdid1dr on January 10, 2016 at 5:12 pm said:

    My favorite of all of the folios is the vary large folded-out folio which illustrates mushrooms in each corner. A bird/swan is swimming on a waterfall. There are people huddled fearfully behind the stems of the giant mushrooms. The entire text, which is multi-folded (and has some (eight ? folds) is referring to the dangers of eating the ‘wrong’ mushroom’ . The particular mushroom IS edible (is NOT a toadstool). There is an “Alcohol Inky”, which is edible PROVIDED NO alcoholic beverage has been served with that meal (for several days before OR after ). Liver failure WILL occur.
    Actually, I’m pretty certain that many very important people (Roman emperors, Cardinals, Popes…..) died from “unknown reasons”.
    I’m hoping Rene will be able to elucidate.

  14. bdid1dr on January 10, 2016 at 5:18 pm said:

    There are references, in that same large folio, to Alcyone and Ceyx, god and goddess of the stormy seas — and the prayers of mariners. Don’t ask me why this ‘fairy tale’ would end up in a Franciscan Friar’s diary/notebook.
    I’m still 1-dering.

  15. bdid1dr: do you know for sure that “Physalis Ixocarpus” (the scribe’s Latin surely let him or her down here, because it should be “Physalis Ixocarpa”) was ever written down prior to Carolus Linnaeus?

    My understanding is that (as a general rule), two-part Latin plant names were devised no earlier than Linnaeus in the 18th century (typically 1753): and so I would be fairly surprised if you would even find “Physalis Ixocarpa” in a 17th century reference, let alone in a 16th or 15th century manuscript. “Physalis”, for example, was a “New Latin” word faked up from the real Greek word meaning bladder, and used purely for taxonomic Latin descriptions (as far as I can tell).

  16. Donald V. on January 10, 2016 at 10:10 pm said:

    As the Manuscript is of Human origin rather than a natural process it follows that complexity is inherent. But until we can rule out the simplest arguments we can’t hope to tackle the more complex issues. An example would be that it is simpler to say that because the manuscript shares some imagery with other medical/herbal texts of the day that it likely falls into that genre. Its much more difficult to make an argument based on current observation that the book is a treatise on politics. We can not hope to prove the manuscript is a political treatise until we disprove that it is not a medical text.

  17. bdid1dr on January 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm said:

    Nick (and Donald V):

    Have you found any (or many?) contributions to your various “Voynich” discussions, which discussions are written in two languages ? Never mind Greek or derivations of Greek, Polish, Czech, Chinese, …..
    What might resolve some of mystery is to observe the consistency of the written words and the Nahuatl translation of classic Spanish. Fray Sahagun’s handwriting began to fail during the last five years or so of his life. He was also very ‘stressed out’ because he was being investigated by the Spanish Inquisition. Some of the documents he submitted to the Inquisitors were never returned to him. Hence the disappearance of his earliest written material which we now call the “Voynich” manuscript.
    Yale’s Boenicke Library has not been able to give provenance to manuscript B-408 because it was donated to the Library by a very wealthy person who had received it from another wealthy source (anonymity had been imposed by then).
    So, I hope you have a large ‘blackboard’ upon which you can write, in LARGE print. Next to the large print should be an enlarged photograph of the object being discussed.
    Ho hum —- When I was working for the Western Regional Headquarters of the US Postal Service, my bosses encouraged me to become a member of Toastmasters USA. My five-minute lecture, with two large illustrations was a huge success: Even though at least two of the gentlemen almost ‘lost their lunch’ : Chinese custom of foot-binding of young girls; so that their feet would never get large (uncouth).

  18. D. Vaughn on January 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm said:

    Many have made the case that the text consists of mixed languages, its the lack of reproducible results that have made these contributions untenable. Translation efforts should be reversible in my opinion. The proponent of the method should be able to take a given passage and convert it consistently between both languages. Likewise it should be reasonable that given a passage in say, English the method should be applicable to convert it to manuscripts language and the result should display characteristics similar to what is seen. Of course one has to take into account linguistic differences so it may not be exact.

  19. bdid1dr on January 12, 2016 at 2:49 am said:

    Donald, can you find the physalis ixocarpa specimen in the so-called Voynich manuscript? Other persons have identified it as being the ‘tomato’. The difference between the large tomato (which does NOT appear anywhere in B-408) is that the tomatillo (physalis ixocarpa ) does not, in any way resemble the larger tomato.

    The native South American tomatillo is easily recognized by persons who eat it as a relish along with their tortillas and or tamales: The small fruit is green inside of its white papery ‘husk’. It can be eaten while still green, or if one is patient enough, the fruit will turn purplish, or red, and the papery husk will begin to peel away from the developing fruit.
    We eat it in our salads or as a relish (while it is still green-unripe).

    My source for identifying the tomatillo is The ‘New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening’ — T. H. Everett — The New York Botanical Garden — Assistant Director (Horticulture) and Director of Education. Publisher: Greystone Press/New York – Toronto – London

  20. bdid1dr on January 12, 2016 at 5:12 pm said:

    ps: Nick, you should be able to find a tomatillo ‘somewhere’ somewhat close to where you do your grocery shopping.
    ps: The bound and chained manuscript you’ve displayed is gorgeous! Are you going to be able to get facsimiles of some of it contents? Have you already?
    I look forward to a ‘fruitful’ event for you!

  21. bdid1dr on January 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm said:

    Nick, I went to page 45 of that beautifully bound ‘miniature’ (in Switzerland) which discusses the ‘ stigmatization des Franz von Assisi’ . It is the most beautifully illustrated and clearly written manuscript I’ve been able to access ANYWHERE !

    Can you tell that I’m just a tad excited ( or a tad ‘mad’) ?
    Thank you for the reference !
    beady-eyed as ever

  22. bdid1dr on January 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm said:

    Catalogues and indexing is what I did for a living — besides finding missing documents.
    Drats! I can’t keep my spell-checker from ‘correcting’ my spelling!
    Ennyway/anyway/anyways….have a good time — and, surely, you will be giving us the ‘run-down’ of your presentation ?

  23. Donald V. on January 12, 2016 at 8:01 pm said:

    I would guess you are speaking of folio 1v in regards to the tomatillo since this is the one I have seen you identify as such . This plant bears similarities to many other members of the solanacea perhaps even in the lycianthes, and it also resembles many other plants not related. I am very familiar with the Tomatillo. During College I worked in a grocery store produce department that catered to a fairly large Latino and Hispanic community and carried many fruits, vegetables, and herbs not consumed extensively outside of those communities. This background certainly does not make me an expert in botany, but it is my understanding that botanists can not conclusively identify the plants in the Voynich. Any identification I put forward is mere speculation

  24. bdid1dr on January 13, 2016 at 4:56 pm said:

    Yes f-1v for the tl o m a tl ll o
    The other plant which I first discovered and translated is the ‘yucca; It is the root of the plant which was used as soap and shampoo. Much confusion abounds with various translators over centuries of illustrations and discussions in various languages.
    This is another plant which Linneaus was not able to identify and/or discuss.

    You might like to take a look at f-2v : oa tl aem e-c-e Sp e-c-o-s ollamosesaeam: the water lilium…….

  25. D. Vaughn on January 14, 2016 at 2:35 am said:

    It could just as likely be Atropa Belladonna, but once again that is mere speculation and I could not prove it any more than it being a tomatillo

  26. bdid1dr on January 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm said:

    @ D. Vaughn: A very recognizable vegetable which botanists over centuries seem not to be able to identify or determine its uses : ‘yucca’ (I’m NOT referring to Agave, yet).
    Yucca ROOT was (is, even today) used as soap and/or shampoo — as well as a foaming agent (non-alcoholic). My husband brings home to me six-packs of “Stewarts” root beer, which has genuine yucca root used for foaming.
    Ignore the scrambled botanical discussion/labels which refer to a tiny floral specimen as being the source of ‘eucca”.
    🙂 burp!

  27. Don V. on January 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm said:

    Nonsense, you still have not explained your proof that f1v refers to a tomatillo beyond your own confirmation bias. I really don’t care about the yucca I am asking you to prove that f1v is tomatillo. I want a proof that does not rely on an unproven translation, nor relies on opinion. Explain it to me as though I were a five year old, each feature in image that you see as proof of it being tomatillo.

  28. bdid1dr on January 14, 2016 at 8:15 pm said:

    Nick, in re your comment/question as to whether I’ve researched Linnaeus works (pre-or post ) my dialogues in re various botanical items in the so-called Vms:
    A botanist friend of mine (UC Davis Master Gardener) and I spent an afternoon trying to find discussions and/or information about ‘dogbane’. Linnaeus had no discussion in re dogbane.
    Perhaps you 1-dr why dogbane? B cause our local Native Americans DID NOT use the so-called Indian Hemp dogbane — but rather “Andro-saemi-folium” dogbane for making cord for fishing nets and , more importantly, for making mesh for making the hip harnesses for the men’s turkey-feather dance regalia.

    Because I 1-der a lot about a lot of v ry interesting things, and sometimes don’t get any answers from so-called x-perts — my spell-checker goes nuts ! But not n e mor
    I ignore spell-checker when I’m deliberately trying to be brief !

    @ DV: Has Nick made you his official inquisitor?

  29. D. Vaughn on January 14, 2016 at 10:35 pm said:

    No, it is not my intention to usurp Nick’s authority, and if this is his opinion of our discussion then I apologize to him. A house of cards cannot stand in a breeze.

  30. bdid1dr on January 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm said:

    Nick (and Rene)
    An illustration in B-408 (folio 35 r) is a beautiful illustration with commentary above the illustration which refers to the Saffron Crocus (capitalisation mine) .
    The very first word (which has ‘loopy upright bars” which behave very much like ‘parentheses’) is referring to the cro-co-o-aes-ce-o-x-geus-ec-o-ll-geus -ec-a-s aes-geus ‘

    Of most importance in the illustration are what may be stamens and pistils (reproductive organs) the red items are what are most important insofar as those little reddish-orange thingys were harvested and powdered for many uses –.
    Some of the ‘shiny gold’ ornamental details which appear in medieval manuscripts was not gold at all. A mixture of finely ground saffron and egg white substituted for the mineral gold. Illustrations of the saffron crocus can be verified by the shape of its “bulbs”. If those bulbs, also known as ‘corms’, are not pulled up, separated, and replanted (timely to whichever part of the planet they are replanted) they will not produce any more ‘saffron’ flowers.

  31. Don V. on January 15, 2016 at 5:31 am said:

    One quick follow-up question, a couple years ago you claimed to translate the ms Into Latin and now it’s Nahuatl and latin. It at that time had something to do with Busbecq and his illustrator, now it friar Sahagun? I may have misunderstood as my memory is not perfect and a lot has gone into my mind since then.

  32. D. Vaughn: please feel free to leave whatever comments you like. The only person yet to get banned (and indeed excised) from Cipher Mysteries was dear old Stephen Bax, but you’d have to be a troll extraordinaire to annoy me even half as much as he managed with his comments. 😐

    Most of the houses of cards I get shown shouldn’t even survive a fairly robust sneeze. 🙂

  33. bdid1dr on January 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm said:

    Don: I was trying clarify that Fray Sahagun’s “Diary” of his sailing from Sahagun Spain to “New Spain” began with discussion of his familial origins, arrival with fellow Franciscan monks, and his earliest experiences with Native South Americans and their botanical gardens (including water gardens –lilies & lotus ‘look-alikes’).

    I reiterate that Busbecq had NOTHING to do with the creation of Boenicke manuscript number 408. Busbecq was on a diplomatic mission to Suleiman’s empire. He brought back to Vienna some 200 manuscripts. He chose to use a somewhat damaged manuscript (which we choose to call the “Voynich” or B-408) to sign off from Ottoman territory. (Ref: ‘Busbecq’s Letters).

    My very first acquaintance with any of Fray Sahagun’s adventures in ‘New Spain’ was a black & white drawing of a monk on his knees. There are several small pots at his side. The ‘captioning” for that ‘sketch’ translates from Spanish to: ‘first dig a hole’ . Search the web for this reference I’ve just made.

  34. Donald Vaughn on January 15, 2016 at 10:24 pm said:

    Well I misunderstood your discussion of Busbecq from years ago.

  35. bdid1dr on January 17, 2016 at 1:50 am said:

    The ‘magic word’ for ‘hole’ was ca ui tl — ‘cavity’

  36. bdid1dr on January 18, 2016 at 5:07 pm said:

    Nick: Somewhere, on your side of the ‘pond’, you should be able to find the “New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening” (unabridged) : published in New York, Toronto, and London, by Greystone Press/New York . Toronto . London — in the 1960’s (some 13-15 slender volumes). I hope you will visit the physalis family, which includes ‘pruinosa, ‘peruviana’, and ‘ alkekengii’ .


  37. bdid1dr on January 18, 2016 at 5:22 pm said:

    In this same multi-volume encyclopedia will be found illustrated discussions of the “Agave” plants (partial quote: “Agaves belong to the Amaryllis family”…..the name Agave is derived from the Greek agavos, meaning admirable.”

    I followed up the reference to the amaryllis family: one reference is to ‘amaryllis belladonna’ … ‘from the Cape of Good Hope’ ….. There are also references to
    Hippeastrum .

  38. bdid1dr: is it true that the only good Hippeastrum is a dead Hippeastrum?

  39. bdid1dr on January 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm said:

    To continue: Hippeastrum –Amaryllis — of great beauty — tropical America — (hang on, there Ootb) — is derived from ” hippeus”, a knight, and astron, a star .

    Nick, can you take another look at the manuscript page which red blossoms and large green leaves have bled through — and compare with this latest discovery (fresh from my antique “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening” ?

  40. bdid1dr on January 19, 2016 at 5:29 pm said:

    Well — I’ve been following your latest offering for discussion: the bleed-through in certain folios in B-408 — red flowers and large green leaves. So, I flipped to the flip-side of that particular folio……….

  41. bdid1dr on January 19, 2016 at 11:30 pm said:

    So: Agave Atrovirens ( an especially large-leaved specimen which grew in the greenhouse at the New York Botanical Garden). For all I know, it MAY still be living in that greenhouse. I’m going to see if I can find discussion of another plant which looks very much like the specimen you discussed recently (while referring to the “bleed-through’ ). Can you refer me to which folio of B-408 you were discussing?

    The plant I’m referring to is “Beschorneria (pronounced bes-kor-NER-ee-uh (per the website manager) “Red Bells Agave” (B. albi-flora/chiapensis?)

    The URL is

    Good luck with your next forum!

  42. bdid1dr on January 20, 2016 at 4:48 pm said:

    I’m now 1-dring if ‘chiapensis’ could be referring to Chiapas Mexico.

  43. Nick, thought I should mention something that could add more to your hypothesis, or at least to connection between the MS and the upper Rhone valley.

    The informing link is presumably linguistic, but I always feel pleased by that when the issue involves comparative imagery.

    It has intrigued me, for years, that the manuscript should represent the sun’s rays – in some images – as curling ‘fangs’ or teeth. You see it in various contexts too: in the most characteristically eastern plants (lotus and mayapple); in the central part of the map’s East roundel and more easily recognised, perhaps, in some of the ‘sun and hooded moon’ diagrams. In northern countries, as Faulkiner said long ago, the sun is imagined beneficent and life-giving; it’s only in regions which experience the sun as death-dealer which see it rather as a lion and so on.

    So why in the Vms?

    And this is what takes us … possibly… to the upper Rhone in what is now Switzerland.

    ‘Dent du Midi’ today describes a range of fierce mountain peaks, but that’s a relatively recent habit; the term had previously been the name of just one peak – the eastern most, now called’La Cime de l’Est’.

    But just as ‘East=Sun’ was an habitual equation, so presumably for persons who knew this part of the upper Rhone, ‘Dent du Midi’ evoked ideas of the highest-rising East [point] : remote, arduous and so forth.

    With the same set of ideas absolutely appropriate to the Tarim basin – the subject of the Voynich map’s East roundel, whose centre is ringed with these ‘teeth’ too.

    Since it is a chain of association – sun, high peaks, ‘tooth’ etc. – which would not be a natural one in every language, it is significant that it does occur in southern Switzerland/the upper Rhone. Or so I think.

    And presumably whoever made the map used a language in which the same allusive link was possible.

    And they’d have to know the Tarim pretty well, even if only by detailed description, to apply the same idea in depicting *that* high mountain-ringed valley of the East/sunrise as it appears in the map.

    If one wished to argue that a Latin from the upper Rhone went so far as the Tarim during (say) the 13th-early 15thC, he would have been a trader of some kind, or a Franciscan. Dominican less likely for all sorts of reasons.

    There’s another interesting connection too: in the Abbey of St. Maurice, Agaunum, the monks sang the psalms in a 24 hour roster, a fairly unusual practice but one observed among the Copts of Egypt whose style of monasticism was recommended to Latins by an early Church writer. Maurice is reputedly a man of Africa or north Africa, too. The Latins described the 24-hour singing of psalms as laus perennis, and the Abbey kept it up between the early 6thC and the 9thC, ceasing thereafter.

    I’m no comparative linguist, and one would be needed to know how many languages have a customary equation between teeth, East, and sun… but wherever else it might occur, it does occur in southern Switzerland and in the Vms.

  44. Mark Knowles on October 9, 2017 at 1:54 pm said:

    D: I argue that the “teeth” on the 9 rosette foldout page are crescent moons.

  45. Mark,
    Short question:have you a blog or web-page where you list the sources – historical, art-historical etc. – which helped you recognise the motif as meant for a line of crescent moons? I expect they have in their footnotes (at least) details of similar usage. Thanks.

  46. Mark Knowles on October 10, 2017 at 6:49 am said:

    D: I don’t have a blog or my own site for the purpose of presenting my research. Nick has an excellent site here which I have no intention whatever of competing with. Also I recognise that I would not be making regular posts to such a site at best one or two very big posts. Then I need to get people to visit my page amongst the numerous sites. All this makes it seem hardly worth bothering with.

    The crescent moon was used in numerous different cases. I used to think it must be an Islamic symbol, but in fact some variant of it can correspond to specific geographical regions such that it might appear on a non-islamic local town flag. It can even sometimes be a Christian symbol where it is frequently associated with the Virgin Mary though it can have other Christian and pre-Christian associations.

    In this context I associated it with Antipope Benedict XIII, born Pedro Martínez de Luna, who, as his name suggests had a crescent moon in his emblems.

    I view the Top Left rosette as representing the Council of Basel. I interpret it as being presented as a central area/table, which is consistent with the layout of these kinds of Papal Councils, with people represented by crescent moons around it indicating their allegance to the antipope, I think much to the chagrin of the author.

    Whilst the interpretation of people being represented by crescent moons is not central to my analysis, in my opinion, that is the interpretation that best fits my overall analysis of the page and also specifically the Top Left rosette. If you want more details of my overall analysis I think most of it I have posted in the Nine Rosette page on this site though there are certainly relevant details that I have not as yet made public.

    At the core my identification is based on the fact that to me it simply looks more like crescent moons than anything else. The moons are not always touching the bounding oval as teeth would be nor are they in the normal shape as teeth. I don’t have a source to tell me they look like crescent moons in the same way that you don’t have a source to say they look like teeth.

    I much prefer the more prosaic representation than that of some monster with sharp teeth and I am generally inclined towards the more down to earth explanations as I have mentioned elsewhere.

    It is true that it reminds on looking a little like the Sarlacc pit which is a hole in the ground with sharp teeth as seen in Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, though I am not really a Star Wars buff; however obviously that is not an interpretation I take seriously at all.

    If I recall Wilfred Voynich believed it to be a drawing of a Human Cell. Again this idea is far from my line of thinking, although I can see where he was coming from.

    It is an interesting rosette as the very limited details, arguably more so than any other rosette on that page, make identification and interpretation much harder.

    It must be somewhat frustrating for you to work on the Voynich amongst people who have a different methodological approach and a different academic background. I am wary of saying that either approach is better than the other.

    I am far from being an expert in Historiography. However I am someone who thinks methodological questions are very important, so I greatly value your perspective. I imagine we have methodologically quite different approaches and I would think that both have some merit.

    I absolutely agree that there is a real value of using source material. I have certainly used source material in the broadest sense, but probably not always the kind that you might be more inclined to refer to.

  47. Mark,
    I have three rigid principles in publishing anything about this particular manuscript. 1. that if it is to serve the study, what is published must be as objectively true as one can possibly manage. 2. that those who are working on the written part of the text have a basic right to be given the necessary information to check how the opinion has been reached – that means transparency about one’s sources and 3. that this manuscript is just one of thousands – in fact, tens of thousands – still in existence (not just those from Latin Europe, Arabic regions and Byzantium). Manuscript studies is a highly-developed science, with a formal procedure for provenancing an item (that is, correctly attributing the object to its time and place of manufacture) and the techniques of iconographic analysis (to determine intended meaning, identify informing culture/s and period/s etc.) is also fairly termed a science today.

    To re-invent or to ignore the way these things are done ‘in the world out there’ seems less than economical of one’s time, and less than respectful of others’. I don’t say that all the people involved need to become palaeographers etc. I do make it a practice, however, to test any ideas that come to mind against the existing body of historical, art-critical and iconographic studies, and as far as one can, to also take into account the very solidly-based sciences of the book. Otherwise, I should feel I might inadvertently mislead those who are kind enough to read what I publish. Unfortunately, so much Voynich writing is about wholly personal and subjective impressions, or what are euphemistically called ‘theories’ that many Voynicheros tend to suppose by default that everything written about it is of that sort. Adding information about the basis for any ideas or research-conclusions you share is a way to show it’s not just all out of your own imagination.

    Oh – and by the way – crescent moons have been around a lot longer than the 7thC AD. Omitting the whole eastern world, Africa, and everywhere else save the Roman empire, we find the crescent and star as the city emblem for Harran in the early centuries BC and AD.

    Finally, if you haven’t seen it, Mark, I think you might enjoy a post written by Erick Kwakkel in which he mentions the Vms and various ways in which medieval texts have to be ‘decoded’ layer by layer. (it’s about much more than Tironian notes, despite the address title

  48. Mark Knowles on October 13, 2017 at 1:29 pm said:


    What you think is objectively true and what I think is so are necessarily different. Clearly there are parts of your analysis that I certainly would not consider as objectively true.

    Methodologically I look at things in terms of balance of probabilities as I have described elsewhere.

    Despite my Mathematical background I find terms like “proof”, “objective true” etc. unhelpful in this context.

    I prefer terms like “plausible”, “highly likely”, “nearly certain” etc.
    I think there nothing wrong with terms like “hypothesis”, “speculation” and “theory”.

    Whenever something that is deemed to be objectively true it starts off by going through a process of speculation, hypothesis forming, testing etc. , where further evidence makes it is either rejected or accepted.

    I think there are very few known objective truths about Voynich at this time.

    There are certain details I will leave including, until I have finished my writeup, and I can present them; I am sorry if you are unhappy about that but that is just the way it is.

    I do not doubt the value of using manuscript sources, though in my specific analysis I must confess that I have found them largely superfluous.

    I don’t need a manuscript to tell me that the castle in the Top Rosette looks like it has swallow tail battlements or that other buildings on the 9 Rosette page look like real buildings or that other geographical features correspond to those one might see with google maps.

    I think the blue and white wavy lines drawn on the “map” represent water. I cannot conceive of a plausible alternative explanation, but I can’t prove that is the case.
    I simply consider how like a thing a drawing looks.

    I guess you could say much of my source material has been photos and modern maps.

    Others ideas have come from reading about certain historical details.

    You can find online various paintings of Papal Councils though I could not find one of the Council of Basel.

    You can find the emblem of the Antipope that I mentioned using google.

    I wrote “Pre-Christian” so that encompasses what you mentioned. As I am sure you know “Pre-Christian” means before Christian. Christianity emerged in the 1st Century AD, so pre-christian would include any time before that and in other countries where Christianity arrived later after that. I didn’t want to get bogged down with discussing pre-christian examples of the use of the crescent moon symbol as it hardly revelant here in my opinion.

    Yes, I read the “Tironian Notes” post. It was interesting. Thanks for referring me to that.

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