The Secret History of the Rosicrucians – 4. The Fama’s First Draft

Having considered this for some years, my conclusion is that the Fama presents fleeting evidence of a first phase of composition.

To my eyes, the main clue to its first phase lies in the penultimate sentence of the Fama, which Philip Neal has very kindly re-translated for me as:

Our [substantial but anonymous] abode too, even were a hundred thousand men to have seen it at close quarters, shall remain unperturbed, intact, unobserved and wholly hidden from the godless world unto eternity.

The key problem is that this [substantial but anonymous] abode sits uncomfortably with the modest building the text elsewhere claims Christian Rosenkreutz himself constructed. As a result, I believe that the “[substantial but anonymous] abode” implied by these lines dates from the original draft of the text, but that this was softened in the later draft. Besides, could such a tiny number of monks really be able to build such a large building?

Regardless, where was this abode? Several writers claimed that they knew: one such claim was that the Rosicrucians were “Protestant monks, formerly of the Cistercian order, who live on a rock on the shores of the Danube in an almost inaccessible place”. Another claim, written down in cipher by Elias Ashmole when visiting Dr Robert Child in Maidstone on 7 March 1651, was that “The Fratres RC : live about Strasbourg : 7 miles from thence in a mon[a]st[e]ry”.

This latter claim was specific enough to research: and the best match by a long way turned out to be the ruined abbey of Honau Abbey, which at that time sat on a tiny island in the Rhine roughly 7 miles from Strasbourg (Honau now lies far inland, the Rhine having been straightened and deepened in the 19th century).

Honau Abbey was founded by Irish monks in 720; became Benedictine in 1104; but was ruined by the Rhine in 1290, whereupon the monks left it behind and moved a little North-East to Rheinau on the left bank of the Rhine, at which point the former Abbey’s church became St Michael’s church in Honau. However, in 1480, the Rhine again flooded Honau badly, this time destroying the Church. A new church was erected only in 1730 – Honau itself was no more than a hamlet through this period, so had no need of a new church.

Hence I believe that the last two sentences of the Fama Fraternitas formed a kind of riddle, with the specific answer being Honau Abbey in the middle of the Rhine. What is particularly fascinating is that, according to his autobiography, Johannes Valentin Andreae travelled northwards from Strasbourg to Heidelberg in 1607. It seems almost certain he would have made the journey by boat, taking him directly past the flooded ruins of Honau Abbey.

However, there is a more direct reason why Dr Robert Child might have thought this: a ruined monastery closely fitting this description appeared in a different Rosicrucian book that appeared at the time, but which until now has usually been dismissed as irrelevant – the Assertio Fraternitatis, now attributed to Raphael Eglin of Basel:

We inhabit a monastery, and when our Father founded this long ago he gave it the name: “Holy Spirit.” In the course of many years it has changed indeed, yet our memorials save it undamaged. Here we live assembled under a holy cloth. The authority of the pope no longer rests upon us, as before. We are surrounded by forests and landed property. A familiar river moves by our land, slowly rippling. Not far from us lies a well-known town, which provides us with all that we need.

Interestingly, Basel was (again, according to his autobiography) one of Andreae’s last stops on his journey of 1610: which I suspect means that Andreae was still telling – perhaps allusively and incompletely – the ‘Conspiracy of the Good’ story embodied in the first draft of the Fama as late as the summer of 1610.

As a result, I think the Assertio should be read as having been written by someone who was exposed not to the final draft of the Fama, but to its first (ludibrium) draft. It also suggests to me that the final composition of the Fama probably did not happen until late summer 1610 when Andreae returned to Tübingen.

Hence my interpretation is that the first draft of the Fama dates to after 1607, and probably took the form of a ludibrium or puzzle-book, in much the same way that The Chymical Wedding comprises a number of word-based or logic-based puzzles integrated into the text for readers to solve (as has been well-documented elsewhere).

Further, I think the reference to telescopes in the vault (and perhaps even the whole vault section of the Fama) was added in or after late 1609. Note that I don’t believe it is possible to say definitively whether or not this was in the draft that Raphael Eglin seems to have seen: but given that the Assertio focuses instead on chemistry (and doesn’t mention anything like telescopes at all), I strongly suspect that it was not, and that it was added as part of the final writing phase.

The Secret History of the Rosicrucians (c) 2012, 2015 Nick Pelling.
1. Introduction
2. The Three Texts
3. Dating The Fama And The Confessio
4. The Fama’s First Draft
5. So… What Was The Point Of It All?
6. ‘Book M’
7. Another Mysterious Manuscript
8. Stories From The Margins
9. Andreae’s Two Journeys
10. The Limits Of Evidence