The Secret History of the Rosicrucians – 7. Another Mysterious Manuscript

At the 2012 Voynich Centenary Conference in Frascati, a presentation by Richard SantaColoma noted how closely the Voynich Manuscript resembles this “Book M”. (He has also written separately about how some of the vertical ‘tubes’ in the Voynich’s two ‘pharma’ quires resemble telescopes and microscopes).

However, what I find most interesting is that he may well not have been the first person to suggest this connection. Georg Baresch (Jiri Bares), an early owner of the Voynich Manuscript, described it thus in a 1639 letter to Athanasius Kircher [as translated by Philip Neal]:

From the pictures of herbs, of which there are a great many in the codex, and of varied images, stars and other things bearing the appearance of chemical symbolism, it is my guess that the whole thing is medical, the most beneficial branch of learning for the human race apart from the salvation of souls. This task is not beneath the dignity of a powerful intellect. After all, this thing cannot be for the masses as may be judged from the precautions the author took in order to keep the uneducated ignorant of it. In fact it is easily conceivable that some man of quality went to oriental parts in quest of true medicine (he would have grasped that popular medicine here in Europe is of little value). He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and also from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script. This is all the more plausible because the volume contains pictures of exotic plants which have escaped observation here in Germany.

Given that the pan-European Rosicrucian excitement had not only died down by 1639 but had also experienced an abrupt backwards slide into cynicism, I think it would be understandable that Baresch does not openly mention the R-word in his letter to Kircher. And yet – in my opinion – everything Baresch mentions seems to correspond quite directly to the qualities expressed by the Rosicrucians.

Even the Fama notes that:

He [Christian Rosenkreutz] shewed them new Growths, new Fruits, and Beasts, which did [not] concord with Old Philosophy […]

Johannes Marcus Marci (who later inherited the Voynich manuscript from Baresch) wrote to Kircher in 1640 [again translated by Philip Neal]:

The Sph*nx [i.e. Athanasius Kircher] will understand from the attached sheet [now apparently lost, but presumably containing a copy of the manuscript’s script] what my friend Mr Georg Barschius wanted to have written by me. Though he is undoubtedly a man of the highest quality and greatly skilled in chemical matters, he has not in fact achieved the real goal he longs for. He seeks it for the sake not of money but of medicine.

Baresch, in his historical context, is without any real doubt an alchemist, though of the 17th century variety that looked to the Philosopher’s Stone not for physical transmutation (i.e. of base items into gold), but rather for medical transmutation – to gain freedom from disease and for vastly longer life.

On the one hand, Richard SantaColoma was clearly wrong about the Voynich Manuscript when he suggested it could have been constructed around 1600. This is because it has been radiocarbon dated to the first half of the 15th century; it has 15th century handwriting and 15th century numbering forms for its quire numbers; it has 15th century letter forms on its end-page; some of its drawings have what appears to be 15th century parallel hatching (as used by Leonardo da Vinci); it uses 15th century cipher shapes; and so forth.

On the other hand, though, might SantaColoma have been unwittingly correct in hypothesizing some kind of connection between the Rosicrucian “Book M” and the Voynich Manuscript, though with quite a different causal arrow from the one he postulated?

In short, might these two names be describing one and the same object, just in different phases of its life? Might the people behind the Rosy Cross have appropriated the Voynich Manuscript to help them tell that story in a curiously persuasive way?

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