Home Top   Prev Next
Map Pages Gloss Pics Refs

History of the Manuscript

Introduction

The history of the Voynich MS is described in three parts, on three pages:

As this is a subdivision by topic, the three histories will overlap in time. This page addresses the second part, the history of the manuscript, its whereabouts and its owners.

The first history of the Voynich MS was published by its discoverer Wilfrid Voynich in 1921 (1). His research was based on the following leads:

The letter by Marci has been the most important piece of evidence for the history of the Voynich MS up until 2000, so to set the stage, the relevant parts of it are given first. They will be discussed in more detail below. This letter will henceforth be referred to as 'The Marci letter', even though other letters written by Marci will be discussed as well.

This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possesion,
[...]
The former owner of this book once asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder
[...]
To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life.
[...]
Dr. Raphael, tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book had belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman. On this point I suspend judgment.

The appearance of the MS at Rudolf's court (in Prague) has always been the turning point between the unknown and the better known part of the MS history. The first publication by Voynich was updated in some details by Manly (4). Since then, our knowledge of this history has increased significantly. Still, there are gaps in our knowledge. Biographical details of the many owners of the MS may be relevant and they are therefore presented on a separate page (5).

This page also includes historical background information for the times of interest, and references to people who may never have had anything to do with the MS, but who happened to be 'at the right place at the right time' (6). The history also does not stop at the time of the discovery of the MS but continues until the time that it was donated to its final owner: the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Library of Yale University.

The earliest history of the MS

As presented in the previous page, the MS possibly originates from Northern Italy, though some German influences are also present. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that the month names in the zodiac section, written in a Romance language, were added later. Sergio Toresella says the language/writing is French (7), while Nick Pelling argues that this is in Occitan (8). Whether this means that the MS travelled through France, or was owned at some point by a French/Occitan speaker elsewhere is still a matter of speculation.

The road to Prague

The John Dee hypothesis

The next evidence relates to the appearance of the MS in Prague during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Habsburg, which lasted from 1576 to 1611. This means that there is a gap in our knowledge of around 150 years. The evidence for Rudolf's ownership is the quoted statement in the Marci letter, but it is not confirmed by any documentary evidence. It is mildly supported by the appearance on the first page of the name of a trustee at Ruduolf's court (Jacobus de Tepenec). In literature about the Voynich MS it is usually assumed that the MS was sold to Rudolf by John Dee and/or his associate Edward Kelley, but this assumption derives from a personal hypothesis of W.Voynich and does not really fit with what is known about these two men. This is discussed in some depth in an article that appeared in 2011 (9). The following is a short summary of this discussion.

As a result of Voynich's theory, the lives of Dee and Kelly have been scrutinised in order to find evidence for :

This scrutiny has resulted in the following pieces of circumstantial evidence:

Unfortunately, some of the more popular accounts of the Voynich MS take the above as good evidence and simply state as probable fact that the Voynich MS was sold to Rudolf by John Dee himself (not neccessarily implying that it is a fake by Dee and/or Kelly). The above three points have been critically examined by R. Prinke and the arguments he presents strongly point against a Dee ownership of the Voynich MS. The year 1586 is often quoted in literature as the year Rudolf bought the Voynich MS, but this is derived entirely from the "Dee hypothesis", and is therefore unsubstantiated.

As a kind of postscriptum, one Dee MS deserving special attention is his "Book of Soyga". He once wrote in his diary: 'Oh, if only I could read the tables of Soyga'. The combination of the fact that this book was lost, and that this quote refers to an undeciphered text, has led to some speculation that the "Book of Soyga" could be the Voynich MS. This speculation has, however, proved to be wrong. The book of Soyga has been found again in two copies by Prof. Harkness. Indeed, it includes diagrams consisting of tables of letters, and, surpassing Dee, Jim Reeds has been able to decipher these (12).

Who brought the MS to Prague?

The Marci letter indicates that the MS was bought by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia for the sum of 600 ducats. The reliability of this information will be analysed below, but assuming that Rudolf did indeed buy the MS, it would be of great interest to know from whom, as this provides a trace further back in time. Voynich indicated in his presentation of its history that he had investigated the biographies of many of the known visitors to Rudolf's court, and that according to him the most likely candidate was John Dee. He also showed how it is possible to trace, through Dee, the path of the MS from 13th Century England to the court of Rudolf II. It should not be forgotten, however, that Voynich specifically wished to prove that the MS originated with Roger Bacon, so he had been looking especially for such a connection.

Fortunately, summary ledgers of the accounts of the court of Rudolph have been preserved, and are kept in the Austrian National Archives in Vienna (13), though unfortunately the actual records are lost. Parts of these have been searched for evidence of Rudolph buying books or manuscripts. In these, some 18 different sellers of books can be identified. In some cases, an author presented a book to Rudolph II with a dedication to him, and received a sum of money in compensation.

One complication in the interpretation of these accounts is the confusion in the monetary units in Bohemia around this time. The most frequently used coins were the silver taler (worth usually 70 kreuzer, but this varied with time), the gold florin (worth 60 kreuzer), and the gold ducat or Venetian ducat and the crown, both gold coins generally worth a bit more than a florin, but with a more variable exchange rate.

A comprensive list of these book sales cannot be presented here, but in the parts available for investigation no transaction could be identified that was a definite candidate to refer to the Voynich MS. In addition, Dee or Kelly are not listed among the identified sellers. It is still of interest to present a few examples of book sales to Rudolf.

Did Rudolf II really own the Voynich MS?

The source of the acquisition by Rudolf is Dr. Raphael Mnišovský, once teacher to the young Ferdinand III, who later also was emperor of the holy roman empire. Mnišovský died in 1644, so this piece of information was more than 20 years old when Marci wrote his letter to Kircher. Furthermore, Mnišovský was referring back to events that took place at least 55 years before Marci's letter, possibly even significantly longer. There are, however, reasons to believe that both men would remember the essential details correctly. Mnišovský was long interested in the manuscripts of Rudolf (14) and the Voynich MS was something that deeply interested Marci since many decades. Still, it is certainly possible that the amount of 600 ducats is not based on fact, but possibly an exaggeration to interest Kircher (15).

One thing (among many) that Emperor Rudolf has become famous for is his enormous collection of natural and cultural artefacts known as his Kunstkammer, essentially a vast private mueseum. The most detailed manuscript catalogue of it was found in Liechtenstein in the 1960's. It also includes a large section describing the books and manuscripts in this collection. There is a dedicated page at this site describing the catalogue. Obviously, if the Voynch MS could be identified in it, we would be certain that it once belonged to Rudolf, but apparently it isn't. This does not mean very much, however, as the books in the Kunstkammer are mostly books concerned with art. None of the many alchemical or magical books known to have belonged to Rudolf are listed in it.

The Bohemian period after Rudolf II of Habsburg

Jacobus Hor?ický de Tepenec

The first positively identified owner of the Voynich MS is Jacobus Hor?ický de Tepenec. He was born in a poor family, raised by the Jesuits and eventually became a successful and wealthy chemist, and a pharmacist at Rudolf's court (16). According to tradition, in 1608 he cured Rudolf from a grave disease and in return received the noble title 'de Tepenec'. This is the version of his name that was written on the Voynich MS, so it must have been written after 1608. In recent years, several books and manuscripts have been found bearing a similar ownership inscription (for which see a dedicated page). They are all accompanied by a number, and this may also be observed beneauth his signature on folio 1r of the Voynich MS. A catalogue of his books would have been made at some point in time, but this has not yet been found.

Exactly how Hor?ický obtained the Voynich MS is not yet clear. Did Rudolf give him the MS in the hope that he could study and understand it? When the emperor abdicated in 1611, and died the year after, he still owed Hor?ický (and many, many others) a significant amount of money (17). Did Hor?ický take the law in his own hands and did he take some of Rudolf's possessions with him (including the Voynich MS)? This very dangerous approach was followed by quite a few people with very serious consequences. Hor?ický obtained the rule over the community of Melnik from Matthias, and lived in its castle as its Hauptmann (governor). When Hor?ický died (1622), he left all his belongings to the Jesuits in Prague and Melnik by testament, but the Voynich MS seems to have escaped from their hands.

The next identified owner of the Voynich MS is the person indicated by Marci in his 1665 letter to Kircher accompanying the Voynich MS. Marci wrote that he wanted to send it as soon as it came into his possession as the result of an inheritance from an intimate friend. This friend, who is not named, is further reported to have sent some transcribed portions of the manuscript to Kircher at an earlier date.

There has been some speculation about the identity of this friend. Manly suggests (18) that it could have been Dionysius Misseroni. He was an accomplished artist from a family with a great tradition as gem-cutters, the most famous being his father Octavio Mieseroni. Manly points out that Marci mentions in the preface to his "Idearum Operaticium Idea" as his mother-in-law one Laura, daughter of Dionysius Misseroni, and thus he would be a candidate for an inhertance. In reality, however, Laura was Ottavio's wife, i.e. Dionysius' mother, and Marci married a sister of Dionysius.

Georgius Barschius

The benefactor of Marci was, indeed, not Dionysius Misseroni. His true identity was first guessed by Wilfrid Voynich himself, when he wrote in 1921 in a letter to Prague, a copy of which is currently contained in the Beinecke holdings (19), that he would like to find out more about the identity of one Georg Barschius, who, some time after 1622, left his alchemical library as an inheritance to Marci. Voynich apparently did not receive a reply, and strangely enough did not include Barschius' name in his presentation of the history of the Voynich MS.

Fortunately, I was able to find out that one letter from a certain Baresch was preserved in the correspondence of Kircher. This collection (earlier bound into 12 volumes) is mentioned in the first published catalogue of Kircher's museum (20), but the volumes were lost since then until about 1930. Until a few years ago, this collection has only been available for study by scholars in piecemeal fashion (21). When a project was started to publish this correspondence (22) I was again fortunate in that I could obtain a copy of the letter from Barschius, which finally confirmed that he was the earlier owner of the Voynich MS, and the friend that Marci referred to in his letter.

The letters are now (bound into fourteen volumes) kept in the Archives of the Pontificia Università Gregoriana (APUG). Known as the Carteggio Kircheriano, it contains more than 2000 letters from over 750 different correspondents, which include emperors, (future) popes and Jesuit missionaries all over the world. Many letters are from scientists reporting on their discoveries. These letters have been bound together with other material (e.g. draft letters from Kircher), and are now freely available to the scientific community.

One of the volumes (APUG 557) bears a paper attachment saying: 'From the private library of P. Beckx' (23). This is the volume which contains 35 of 36 letters from Marci to Kircher, and many other letters from Prague and Bohemia (although the general organisation of the collection appears to be completely arbitrary). This same volume also contains the letter from one M. Georgius Baresch (24). From this important letter it becomes certain that Baresch did indeed own the MS and sent Kircher a partial transcription of it, exactly confirming the details known from the 1665 Marci letter. Baresch was prompted to contact Kircher because of the appearance, more than two years earlier, of Kircher's work about Coptic, which began to establish Kircher's fame as someone who could decipher and read any language.

We do not know very much about Baresch. He was unknown to Czech historians until recently, but his role as the temporary owner of the Voynich MS has established his name (25). Marci mentions him in his book 'Philosophia Vetus Restituta (1662), calling him a very good friend, indicating that they were friends for 40 years, and that Baresch left Marci his alchemical collection library in his will. This is clearly the source for Wilfrid Voynich's information. Baresch is also mentioned in two letters from Marci to Kircher (26). We still don't know how the Voynich MS passed to Baresch, or if anyone else owned MS between Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec and Baresch.

Johannes Marcus Marci de Kronland

Marci was born in 1595, in the Bohemian town of Landskron (German: Kronland) and was initially raised to become a Jesuit. He did not, however, follow that path, but instead, after extensive medical studies, he became professor at the Prague Charles University. In 1638 or 1639 he undertook a journey to Rome and this is when he met Athanasius Kircher, marking the start of their long friendship. The two men corresponded for some 25 years and the last letter from Marci, written in August 1665, is the one accompanying the Voynich MS. (27).

Marci inherited the Voynich MS from Baresch before 1662. He also discussed the Voynich MS with Dr. Raphael Mnišovský before 1644 (28). It is clear that the MS was the topic for discussion between various men. Marci wrote to Kircher that he destined the MS for Kircher as soon as he got it, but he definitely kept it for a number of years before he actually sent it. Marci's eyesight deteriorated significantly towards the end of his life. Perhaps he decided to send the MS only after he could no longer see and study it himself. Certainly, the last two preserved letters from Marci to Kircher are no longer in his own hand but were written by a scribe (29). Furthermore, after Marci sent the Voynich MS to Kircher, one of his Prague friends Godefrid Aloys Kinner (who was also one of Kircher's most prolific correspondents) asked Kircher once in 1666 and once again in 1667 on Marci's behalf whether Kircher had made any progress in deciphering the book that Marci had sent to him (30). Marci died in April 1667.

The Roman period

Athanasius Kircher and the Voynich MS

Athanasius Kircher was a contemporary of Marci, and while he was significantly more famous than Marci in his days, also he has left little impact on modern times. He was born in 1601 or 1602 (he himself did not know) in Geisa in Germany and after some quite adventurous travelling he arrived in Rome in 1635, where he was to stay, until his death, at the Roman College.

From 1638 onwards Kircher was professor in mathematics at the Roman College, but his interest covered 'everything under the sun'. When he was released from teaching duties after 8 years, he started publishing books, concentrating on a different subject every three to four years. He received visits or letters from scientists, royalty and clergy from all over Europe and beyond, together with a multitude of artefacts, curiosities of natural history and mechanical apparatus. This, together with his library, he later donated to a museum, which eventually became the famous 'museum of the Roman College' or the 'Museum Kircherianum'. This museum became one of the top attractions of Rome in the 17th century.

There is no indication what Kircher has done with the Voynich MS. There is not even any solid evidence that he ever received the manuscript and the letter from Marci! It is however very plausible that he did, because of the fact that both Kircher's correspondence and the book collection bought by Voynich in the Villa Mondragone came from the same collection: the private library of P. Beckx. It is also clear that Marci did send out the MS, from the above-mentioned letters by Godefrid Aloysius Kinner from Prague, filed by Kircher after Marci's death, inquiring about Kircher's success in deciphering the mysterious book. We do know that Kircher responded to Barschius first letter to him, as explained on another page.

Following now is a summary timeline of historical facts related to the possible whereabouts of the Voynich MS after the death of Marci, again in order to present as much as possible material to future researchers.

The Roman College and its Museum

1651 Museo Kircheriano moved from Kircher's private quarters to a large exhibit hall.
1655-6 Queen Christina of Sweden arrives in Rome and visits Kircher's museum.
1665 Johannes Marcus Marci writes a letter and sends it with the Voynich MS to Athanasius Kircher. It is not clear when it reaches Rome.
1678 De Sepi publishes a catalogue of the Museo Kircheriano. It mentions ten bound volumes of letters from all over the world, and books in many languages, but not specifically the Voynich MS.
1680 death of Athanasius Kircher
1698 Filippo Buonanni custodian of the Museo Kircheriano
1709 Buonanni publishes a more elaborate catalogue of Kircher's museum. It does not specifically list Kircher's books. It provides indications about the layout of the museum, and in which hall the books were kept. The precise location of the museum in the complex of the Collegio Romano and the St.Andrea is not known, but the entrance was in Via del Collegio Romano.
1725 Orazio Borgondio Bresciano custodian of the Museo Kircheriano
1741 Cantuccio Contucci of Montpulciano is the new custodian of the Museo Kircheriano. He also publishes some kind of catalogue.
1754 - 7 Lazzari, the librarian of the Collegio Romano writes about some of the works contained in the library. It does not mention the Voynich MS or any other item Voynich bought in the Villa Mondragone (31).
1761 Anton Maria Ambrogi curator of the Museo Kircheriano.
1773 Giovanni Antonio Battara re-issues Buonanni's catalogue of the museum.

The vicissitudes of the Society of Jesus

The whereabouts of the Voynich MS during the following period could not yet be traced. The Society of Jesus experienced two suppressions and many of their belongings have been confiscated. Still, the Voynich MS (and other Jesuit books such as the Carteggio Kircheriano) did remain in their possession. Therefore, in this and the following sections, especially the movements of libraries, archives and collections receive some attention.

1773 The Society of Jesus suppressed in Rome. Lazzari, the librarian of the Roman College, joined cardinal Zelada (one of the main actors in the anti-Jesuit movement), who took some of the books and MSs from the Roman College to his library in Toledo. The archives of the Society, kept to that time in the Casa Professa, were saved by Giuseppe Pignatelli S.J. during the Napoleonic era.
1814 End of the Napoleonic era. Restoration of the order.
1815 Pope Pius VII returns the Gesù with annexed house (Casa Professa) and the novitiate of S. Andrea to the Jesuits.
1824 Society of Jesus fully restored. Collegio Romano with the S. Ignazio, the Oratorio del Caravita, the museums, the library and the 'vecchia specola' (Astronomical Observatory) are returned to the Jesuits.
The 'Seminario Romano', previously located between the S.Ignazio and the Pantheon (via del Seminario), is moved to the Apollinare near Piazza Navona.
The Collegio Germanico is moved to the palazzo Borromeo, also in via del Seminario.
1853 P. Beckx S.J. becomes the general of the society after the death of Roothaan. IMAGE: Portrait of P. Beckx S.J.
1865 Villa Mondragone is made available to Jesuits by its owner, Marcantonio di Borghese.

Second suppression of the society, 1870

On September 20, 1870, the troops of Vittorio Emanuele II captured the city of Rome, and one by one took over the Jesuit houses in the city: the church 'Il Gesù', the novitiate school of S. Andrea al Quirinale, the S. Eusebio and the 'Casa Professa', which housed the Curia (central administrative entity) of the Jesuits, their main library, and the library of the Duchess of Sachsen (now known as the Bibliothea Rossiana). The Jesuits were eager to salvage their property, and since the government had agreed that personal belongings could be kept while belongings of the society needed to be handed over, many books and manuscripts were labelled as belonging to the 'private library of P. Beckx'. The government was even about to confiscate this private library, but thanks to the personal intervention of King Vittorio Emanuele II, P. Beckx was allowed to keep it (32). This was facilitated by the absence of detailed catalogues of the The main Jesuit library of the Collegio Romano (Bibliotheca Major), (33). so that valuable documents of it could be salvaged by this ruse (34).

The remainder of the Bibliotheca Major, which was located in the Sala Crociate in the Collegio Romano, was confiscated on October 20, 1873, and the new government set up the new national library 'Vittorio Emanuele II' in the very building of the Collegio Romano. It included the holdings of several other confiscated libraries.

The Collegio Romano was confiscated and turned into the state gynamsium Ennio Visconti. The university moved to the Palazzo Borromeo in the same street (via del Seminario 120). This palace is also known as the site of the Collegio Germanico (the German college was there until 1886, see above). From 4 December, the University would be known as the Pontificia Università Gregoriana del Collegio Romano. The early section of the archives of the Society was moved to the same building. P. Beckx moved to Fiesole, where the new Curia was established, including the 'modern' section of the archives of the Society.

A footnote in Beckx' biography explains that a personal friend of Fr. Beckx, Don Alessandro of Torlonia, rescued the above-mentioned novitiate of S. Andrea by moving it to his palace at Castel Gandolfo, and insisted that Fr. Beckx stay in this palace from time to time, which he did. The same footnote explains how similar acts of friendship were due to a member of the Borghese family. It seems reasonable to assume that this is the same Borghese who made the Villa Mondragone available to the Jesuits and that this is how the manuscript collection ended up there. Furthermore, the Jesuit college rector at the Mondragone at this time was father Alessandro Ponza di S.Martino S.J., who was the brother of count Gustavo Ponza di San Martino, one of the trustees of King Vittorio Emanuele II (34a), who had already shown his support to P. Beckx.

During the period 1874-1875 some 400,000 volumes from over 60 libraries were transferred to the Vittorio Emanuele II library and it was officially inaugurated on 15 March 1876, still at the site of the former Collegio Romano. Kircher's museum was also confiscated. (Some of the material is now at the Museo Pigorini in the EUR). Only the famous astronomer Angelo Secchi and his observatory ('Vecchia Specola') were allowed to stay in the building of the Collegio Romano.

1878 Catalogue of Kircher's museum edited by director prof. Ettore de Ruggiero
1882 One student at the Collegio Romano is Henri Hyvernat who later shows an interest in the Voynich MS and obtains a copy from Mrs. Voynich one year after Wilfrid's death.
1884 Beckx abdicates and Anderledy becomes the new general of the society. Beckx returns to Rome and lives in the S.Andrea al Quirinale.
1887 Death of P. Beckx at age 92.
1889 Biography of Beckx written by Verstraeten.
1892 Death of Anderledy. Luis Martin becomes the new General of the society. One of his actions was moving the early archives of the Society from the Collegio Germanico to the German novitiate in castle Exaten in Baexem, Holland (not known exactly when he did that).
1893 First(?) issue of Sommervogel and De Backer, 1893. It does not mention the correspondence of Kircher (which was mentioned in De Sepi) while it does describe many other less significant items of his correspondence now kept elsewhere. It is very likely that the complete carteggio was hidden together with the other manuscripts from the Collegio Romano, including also the Voynich MS.
1893 - 4 Father General Luis Martin appoints a number of historians, giving rise to the birth of the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu. The first edition appears in 1894, while the monumenta was located in Madrid.
1895 Franz Ehrle becomes the new custodian (later prefect) of the vatican library. He will still be the prefect at the time that the library receives the collection from the Collegio Romano.
1896 Villa Mondragone bought by the Jesuits. The villa is badly in need of restoration.
1903 Pius X is the new pope. He is very supportive of the Jesuits and a good friend of General Luis Martin.
1906 Death of Luis Martin. Werntz becomes the new General of the Society. He is also on excellent terms with Pope Pius X.
1911 The American book dealer Wilfrid Voynich enters the stage.

The American period

The Manuscript found by Wilfrid M. Voynich

In 1911-1912, Wilfrid Voynich was brought into contact with the Jesuits of Villa Mondragone, which then housed a college (boarding school). He was introduced to them by one Fr. Strickland S.J.

The Jesuits needed to sell a fraction of a MS collection of over 1000 volumes in order to be able to afford the restaurations of the villa. The buyer had to agree to absolute secrecy, and upon Fr. Strickland's recommendation Voynich was accepted by the Jesuits as the buyer (35). Voynich acquired at least 30 manuscripts, some of which were extremely valuable. In 1912, about 300 manuscripts from the same collection of the Collegio Romano were bought by Pope Pius X and donated by him to the Vatican library. This is described in a catalogue by J. Ruysschaert. This catalogue gives some details about the earlier provenance of the manuscripts, including that they belonged to the Collegio Romano, but it does not mention where they were purchased from (36). It does, however, describe Voynich's earlier purchase.

Voynich embarked on a campaign to establish that the Voynich MS was a major document in the history of science. He was convinced that it was written by Roger Bacon. His first public display of several of the MS's he bought in the Mondragone, and in other places in Europe was in 1915 at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was accompanied by a short publication. One of the main attractions at this event was the Voynich MS.

Supported by two scientists who thought that they could read the MS, Voynich presented it in 1921 at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The presentations are published in their proceedings. The paper by Voynich is the presentation which was mentioned at the top of this page, and which shows a very thorough and competent study by Voynich. But Voynich was obliged to keep his promise not to tell where he bought the MS's and invented the ruse that he was keeping this location a secret because he was hoping to return there to buy more MS's (which he may well have hoped in reality!). The only person whom he told what really happened was his wife, Ethel Lilian Voynich Boole.

Voynich claimed that the manuscript was found in some chests which probably came from the houses of Parma, Farrara and Modena, and that they had been stored there since the start of the century. Some of the MS's he found were indeed embellished by the arms of these families (36a), but at the same time Voynich knew that the collection once formed part of the private library of Petrus Beckx S.J.

About half of the books Voynich bought in the Villa Mondragone had paper slips attached to them, which contain the handwritten catalogue entry for this book. Similar slips are found in the MSs now preserved in the Vatican Library. Additional slips with typescript "Ex Bibliotheca privata P.Petri Beckx" were glued on top of these. Many of these are still preserved in the Beinecke library, but not that of the Voynich MS (should it ever have existed).

From the notebooks now kept at the Beinecke library, it is evident that Voynich did all he could to find out the truth about this MS. He investigated P. Beckx but it is not clear if he ever had access to his biography (some 600 pages written in Dutch). He did find out from De Sepi's catalogue that there once was a 12-volume binding of Kircher's correspondence, and immediately realised (correctly as we have seen above) that this must be a valuable source for additional information about his MS. He decided to find out about this collection with one Henri Hyvernat, who was in Rome at the time. For an as yet unknown reason, Voynich did not write to Hyvernat directly, but asked his trusted friend W.W. Bishop to do that for him.

Hyvernat then asked around in Rome about Kircher's correspondence, but even the person he considered to be the most qualified historian didn't know anything about it. The latter was intrigued, but suggested that it was probably lost some time between 1773 and 1824.

After the death of Wilfrid Voynich

Voynich died in 1930, and Ethel Voynich, his widow, inherited the MS. One of the first things she did was to take a copy of it to the Catholic University in Washington, to show it to Prof. Henri Hyvernat. Both he and his assistant Theodore Petersen were immediately intrigued by it, but there is no indication that Hyvernat saw the MS before (e.g. when he was in Rome) or even knew about it. Petersen kept the copy for a while, and made a complete hand transcription of it.

The next year (1931) was a very busy year for the Society of Jesus. The new Gregorian University was opened at its current address in Piazza della Pilotta, and the new Curia, including the archives (ARSJ), was opened in the Borgo, near the Vatican, with all the material being moved there from its various temporary locations. It must be assumed that the remaining MSs of P. Beckx's private library (including Kircher's correspondence) was returned to the archives od the Gregorian University (Pontificia Universita Gregoriana or PUG) at this time. Following is a tentative timeline showing the transfers of partial collections between libraries.

Anne M. Nill, Voynich's secretary, remained a close friend of Ethel Voynich and upon Ethel's death, she inherited the Voynich MS. Since Ethel had realised that she was the only one who knew where the MS came from, she had written a letter, only to be opened after her death, giving the details she remembered. It was Anne Nill who openened that letter, to find out that the mysterious castle where Voynich found the MS was located in Frascati, and about the fact that Voynich had to promise absolute secrecy about this.

Anne Nill looked for a buyer of the MS. Wilfrid Voynich had stipulated before his death that a buyer would have to be agreed by a committee of 5 persons: his wife, Anne Nill, Manly, Bishop and James Westfall Thompson. Whether this rule was applied or not is not known to me, but when the buyer, Hans P. Kraus, was found, Anne Nill started sending out letters to all those people who had received copies of the MS to please return them, because the potential buyer wanted to buy only on the condition of exclusive rights to the publications about the MS. Evidently, he still thought (or at least hoped) that the MS was of major scientific importance. Some owners of the copies returned these (e.g. Petersen, and the N.Y. Public Library). Most of the others simply responded that they wouldn't make further copies for others, or publish anything about it without first asking the new owner.

Kraus highly valued the MS and tried to sell it for a large amount of money (equivalent to the amount Voynich had asked for it before), but did not succeed. He had promised that a large part of the profit he could make would be given to Anne Nill, but she died only one year after Ethel Voynich. The MS spent most of this part of its history in a bank vault in New York.

There is an odd anecdote in Kraus' autobiography, which states that he visited Mgr. Ruysschaert in Rome in 1963. Ruysschaert had published the catalogue of the Latin manuscripts which the Vatican library acquired in 1912 from the Collegio Romano. Kraus asked him about the Voynich MS. Ruysschaert apparently thought that the Vatican library owned it, a surprising mistake (37). Interestingly, however, this quote has triggered the further study of the history of the Voynich MS (38).

Kraus finally donated the Voynich MS to the Beinecke Rare Book and MS library of Yale University, where it is still kept today, together with other material related to the MS, such as the Marci letter, and Voynich's notebooks and the many letters he sent and received.

Notes

1
See Voynich, 1921
2
Text and English translation of this letter are available here. IMAGE: a photograph of the letter.
3
I am indebted to J. Reeds, who brought this fact to my attention. This essentially triggered the study of the history of the Voynich MS which is described here. Among the material left by W. Voynich one can still find the notes which were attached to the other books and manuscripts he bought in the Villa Mondragone. A similar note should have been attached to the Voynich MS, but this I have not seen.
4
See Manly, 1931.
5
And a portrait gallery is provided as well.
6
One such person is Massimiliano Massimo S.J., who is no longer mentioned in the main text since this page was updated in July 2004. There is no evidence that Fr.Massimo S.J. has had anything to do with the Voynich MS. He is only included here since he was 'at the right place at the right time' more than once: he had just graduated at the Collegio Romano when Beckx saved the important MS library, he owned Jesuit school buildings (Palazzo Perretti) in Rome and he died very shortly before the Beckx collection was partly offered for sale. This may well all be an insignificant coincidence.
7
Quoted in an E-mail to the Voynich MS mailing list by Jim Reeds.
8
In "The Curse of the Voynich", pp. 21-23.
9
Unfortunately only in Czech, in the book "Alchemy in Rudolphine Prague" (2011). See also the >> analysis by R.Prinke
10
According to A.G. Watson
11
Arthur Dee is quoted by Sir Thomas Browne. The full quote is replicated at another page at this site.
12
About Jim Reeds' work on the book of Soyga, and a reference to his article.
13
I am very grateful to Manfred Staudinger for having been able to visit the archives.
14
As witnessed by his 1630 letter to Ferdinand II, reported in Evans (p.361)
15
This is explored in more detail in Zandbergen and Prinke, 2010 (to be pubished).
16
For more details see the biographies page
17
From Podlaha, to be discussed in Zandbergen and Prinke 2010 (to be published).
18
In Manly, 1931
19
This is reported rather inaccurately by Brumbaugh (1978), as he confuses the position of sender and receiver). The letter was seen by Claudio Antonini in November 2000 and it has been transcribed here at this site.
20
In De Sepi, 1678, p.65.
21
See Fletcher 1969, 1972, 1988
22
The Kircher correspondence project by Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding (>> New site, >> Original site).
23
See Fletcher, 1988.
24
APUG 557, fol.353, from Fletcher, 1972. This letter is reproduced at this site
25
R. Prinke has uncovered most of the information. See the biography of Baresch for details and references.
26
APUG 557, fol.127, from Fletcher, 1972.
27
For more details see his biography.
28
About Raphael's name in the Marci letter and a link to his biography
29
See > > web site of Philip Neal (scroll down about one page).
30
The letters are translated by Philip Neal: >> 1666 letter, >> 1667 letter,
31
In Lazzari (1754,1757), cited by Ruysschaert (1959)
32
Information provided by Michele Smith, from Vita di Vittorio Emanuele II
33
The catalogues have been preserved and are now listed as Ant.Cat.21 and Ant.Cat.23 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Rome.
34
From letters written by Jesuits witnessing these activities, found by Xavier Ceccaldi and shown at his web site
34a
Also found by Xavier Ceccaldi and shown at his web site
35
These details may be read in Voynich's correspondence, which is now kept in the Beinecke library of Yale University. In particular see E.L.Voynich's letter.
36
In a subsequent publication, the famous Jesuit historian Miquel Batllori declares that he has not been able to find any detail about the sale of the MS's to the Vatican library, despite searching for it in the Roman Archives of the Society (ARSJ).
36a
At least one MS he acquired was previously in the library of Borso d'Este, duke of Parma and Modena.
37
From Kraus (1963):
In 1963 we were in Rome and I visited Monsignor Jose Ruysschaert at the Vatican library. I knew that he had published the catalogue of the Mondragone library and I hoped to get information about the Cipher manuscript. To my great surprise he thought that the manuscript was still in the library. I asked him: "Can you show it to me?" "Yes," he replied, and headed for the stacks. Soon he returned without it. I had to tell him that I owned the codex, and how it came to me.
Recently, a letter from Kraus to Friedman has surfaced, showing that the above is not completely accurate. It is quoted here.
38
First started by the author of these pages and excellently carried forward by X. Ceccaldi, and shown at his web site.

Acknowledgments

Valuable contributions were gratefully received from the following persons, in alphabetical order:
Claudio Antonini (USA), Ladislav Bares (Charles University, Prague), Monica Blanchard (Catholic Univ. of America), Marcela Budíková (Brno, Chech Republic), Stefano Casotto (Univ. of Padova), Xavier Ceccaldi (USA), Michael John Gorman (Stanford Univ, USA), Jan Bedrich Hurych (Ontario, Canada), Gabriel Landini (Birmingham Univ., UK) Joseph McDonnell S.J. (Fairfield Univ), Philip Neal (USA), Rafal Prinke (Poznan, Poland), Jim Reeds (USA), Jorge Stolfi (University of Campinas, Brazil), Felix Villarreal S.J. (Sogang Univ., S.Korea).

They have been reflected either in this page, the page about the origin of the Voynich MS, or the biographies page.

Home Top   Prev Next
Map Pages Gloss Pics Refs
Copyright René Zandbergen, 2013
Comments, questions, suggestions? Your feedback is welcome.
Latest update: 24/03/2014