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SOME VISUAL IMAGERY IN THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT

Without knowing the language, the Voynich Manuscript researchers are focusing on the images for clues where this mysterious book was created. Some images in the Cosmology page seem promising because they are marked with labels.

One such image seems to be the lighthouse by the sea. Is it a lighthouse? The building on the right side is suggestive of the meditterranian style (flat roof). I translitterate these words as: OSVAIR OZVAL SVČI – WARN (WILL) CALL CANDLE (light), (with) LIGHT  (it) GIVES WARNING

The inhabitants of Lower Carniola (present day Dolenjska), where I believe the VM was created, did not know what a lighthouse was. The author used three descriptive words: giving warning with the light. In contemporary Slovenian, the lighthouse is called SVETILNIK.

Giving warning with light was not limited to the sea travel alone. In the medieval Balkans, fires were lighted on hilltops to give warning of oncoming Turkish attacks.

I believe the author intended to use this image as an analogy for the bottom image. A lighthouse represents an early warning for seafarers in the darkness of the night. In the Middle Ages, the Carthusian monasteries were like lighthouses in the spiritual darkness, protecting true Christianity. (Slovenian language enabled both interpretations, due to the meaning of the word SVETI – (he, it, she) shines, enlightens, makes holy.

J. K. Petersen reasons that the structure in the middle of the top part of this picture could not be a lighthouse, because the lighthouses had round or octagonal tops. He is speculating that the image on both sides represent a steep escarpment, or perhaps terraces. The building in the top righthand corner of Cosmology (at the bottom of this picture) is subject of intense research. Most researchers assume the picture represents a castle.

However, there are several reasons why this does not look like a castle. It is true that the castles had their own chapel, but the steeple on this picture looks like a church steeple. This suggests that the church compound is surrounded by a wall. On the sketch, there seem to be two watch towers outside the walled area. They look square. The medieval European castle had the watch towers usually build-into the castle itself. They were erected much higher than the outside walls.

Petersen explains this structure as a castle, or a city surrounded by a wall with a Ghibelline merlons (the swallowtail in the front), and more common square merlons on the back walls. He is pointing at another picture in the Cocharelli codex where one side of the walled place had swallowtail, and another side the rectangular merlons.  He pointed out that these illustrations might not be literal and might have something to do with Philip IV of France, who was ‘against the papacy and open to allegiances with the Holy Roman Empire’. The illustrations in the Cocharelli codex are related to persecution of Templars.  Also, the political dispute is mentioned between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. Petersen also pointed out that the merlons in the VM picture could be symbolic rather than literal, and that it is hard to find evidence of the swallow tail merlons outside of northern Italy/Lombardy/Bohemia before the late 15th century. The Cocharelli drawings are from the 14th century. He is wondering if the merlons in the VM rosettes folio are literal or symbolic. He is particularly puzzled that both drawings have two types of the merlons on the same building, and wonders if the pictures in two different codices share a common source of inspiration. Is it a reference to a specific event, or if there was a such a place like this? His ideas that the swallowtail pattern of merlons might be an important clue to determine the origin of the manuscript, were shared by some other researchers as well. They wondered if it was related to the dispute between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs.

Is it a church or a castle?

I had examined several theories proposing that the above picture represents this or that castle in Italy. But in my view, the picture shows most likeness to the Carthusian Charterhouse at Jurklošter (called Gairah in the medieval sources). This is the place where Nicholas Kempf, who I believe is the author of the VM, spent over twenty years as a prior.

Petersen interpreted the steeple as a saddleback with two separate points at the top. This architectural style, too, could be found in the vicinity of Jurklošter. The Castle of the Counts of Cilii (Celje) is still standing above the town. There are still a lot of original features, particularly the impressive walls surrounding the castle.

The Counts of Cilii (Celje) were the leading European dynasty in the 15th century. They were the original Slovenian dynasty related to most European royal families, and their main residence was at their castle in Celje. They were great supporters of Carthusian monasteries.

The tower of the castle is square, with rectangular merlons, saddleback roof and two points at the top of the steeple. A similar design can be seen on top of the steeple in the VM church, and on the watch tower in that same circle. It is possible that the image of a rooster (on the comparative pictures) was placed on top of the steeple after the church was rebuilt later and the Protestantism was embraced by the Carthusians.

Unlike the medieval castles that stood on top of the hills, the compound on this picture was in the valley, between the two mountains.

The assumption that the top of the walls is decorated with the swallow-tale design, could as well allude to the destroyed individual cells of the monks, or destroyed wall. It could also represent the sketch for re-building the destroyed walls.

The paintings I am using for comparison were made in 17th century, and clearly indicate two watch towers and a pointy church steeple with what looks like a forked top. The image on the top could also be a stylized bird. The original tip of the steeple might be the same as on the Celje castle, and the stylized bird added at the time of Protestantism, that had spread all over Slovenia.

The Protestant churches in Europe were using the symbol of a rooster atop their steeples to distinguish them from the Catholic Churches.

It is not known how the monastery at Jurklošter looked like when Nicholas Kempf arrived there. According to the historical sources, it was burned down by the Turks shortly before his arrival in 1450s. Protecting it by a wall and watch towers was great necessity. The Turkish incursions were to continue for another century. The place was burned and rebuild several times, as indicated by the paintings created at different times. One thing remained consistent: the location of the monastery was between the two mountains, which for a monk would be highly simbolic.

While most of the medieval castles were built on top of the hills, the Carthusian monasteries were usually located in the valleys.

Present-day Slovenia was right in the centre of the warring factions during the Guelph/Ghillbeline conflict. Even the swallowtail merlons can be found on some medieval Slovenian buildings, such as the Praetorian Palace in Koper. It was built in the 15th century and is still standing as an important landmark of Koper.

The ancient Greek name of Koper was Aegida (Goat Town), the Romans renamed it to Capris and Slavs to Koper. In 568, the Roman citizens of nearby Tergeste (modern Trieste) fled to Koper due to the invasion by the Lombards.

Since 932, Koper was actively trading with Venice. In the war between Venice and the Holy Roman Empire, Koper sided with the Germans. As a reward, the Emperor Conrad II granted it full rights as a town in 1035. After 1232, Koper belonged to the Patriarchate of Aquileia, and in 1280 it joined the Republic of Venice. Koper became the capital of Venetian Istria and was renamed Caput Histriae (Head of Istria), which is reflected in the Italian name Capodistria.

Petersen explained the picture below as a circular wall. This presents a problem for me, because if the building in the middle is a church, or a castle, the walled area would not be narrowed in the middle. I see another pair of buildings as an analogy of protection: the watchtower offers protection from enemies, and the Church as a religious institution offers protection from fear and anxiety. Its objective is to instill proper values, thus eliminating poverty, brutality and wars.

The transition between the two circles is comprised of two white fields, narrowed in the middle where a church with three steeples is located. The upper part looks like an O, while the bottom is shaped like an inverted V. It reminds me of the Glagolitic letter S (slovo).

In the Glagolitic alphabet, the name of the letter is ‘slovo’, probably because a ‘word’ or ‘a letter of alphabet’ are called slovo. It is possible that the author of the VM made a subtle allusion to the monastery as a place where words are used to help people ascend towards God.  A triangle is a symbol of ascent, and the circle O is an ancient symbol for God. This monastery was well-known religious and cultural centre.

The three steeples could be an allusion to the Holy Trinity. This too, could be related to Kempf. The monastery where Kempf wrote his Mystical Theology was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. However, the church does not look like the chapel of Pleterje.

The Benedictine Maria Laach Abbey was mentioned as possibly being the building that was depicted in the VM. The Abbey was founded in 1093 by the first Count Palatine of the Rhine, Henry II of Laach of the House of Luxembourg. This, too, offers an association to the relationship of the Counts of Celje with Luxembourgs by way of Emperor Sigismund.

Kempf would have been familiar with this monastery. It used to be a cultural-religious centre related to Salian German king Henry. St. Bernard is said to have had his mystical visions there. The monastery was located near Kempf’s birthplace. If he did not hear about it in his childhood, he could have been familiar with it at the time of the Basel Counsel. The monastery was allied with the Basel Counsel.

The image of watch tower 

OSVOOR DALY – OSVARILO DALI – warning (they will) give

The watch tower in Slovenian is now called RAZGLEDNI STOLP (observation tower). The author of the VM described it by its function: OSVOOR DALY – warning (they will) give.

The label opposite it, above the church, reads OTCHDY OTOLDY – which in Slovenian means CLEANSE CONSOLE (SAVE, PROTECT).

Now that I have established the possibility that the pictures represent both literal and symbolic meaning at the same time, I will try to explain another segment of the VM Cosmology that precedes the image of the church in the top right corner. The picture represents the passage from the first top circle to the middle top circle.

The image from the VM is explained by Petersen as being various structures: walls with observation towers, at the bottom: a spiral pathway on a steep hill to the rectangular tower on top, with saddleback roof. Petersen is not that sure about the ‘structure’ on the opposite site (on top, or on the right on the inverted picture above). He is speculating it might be a mound, a hole, or a cave entrance.

The transition (the bridge, or the pathway) from one circle to the next has an interesting shape. Within this area, there seem to be two pyramid-like shapes with unfinished tops. Within these two strange images, I see two important medieval symbols: a lighted candle (symbolising religion and enlightenment) and the ‘Princes Stone’ (a symbol of democracy). The picture on the right side looks like a two-tier candlestick with a burning candle. The light is a symbol of wisdom. Jesus referred to himself in the following way: “I am the Light”.  A lighted candle was a symbol of the Waldensians who were prominent in Tyrol. They were persecuted as heretics. They had great influence on the 15th century Bohemia.

The Prince’s Stone is an inverted base of an ancient Ionic column. It was used as a throne on which the Slovenian (Carantanian, and later Carinthian) princes were installed in a colourful ancient ritual and in the Slovenian language. The princes were originally elected from among the people in a democratic way. Even after the Frankish and German kings appointed their princes and dukes, the Slovenian people had the right to accept or reject them, and to speak to them in Slovenian language. The ritual was practiced up to 15th century. It was mentioned by Pope Pius II (Kempf’s contemporary) in 1509 as the only true democratic system. In the written sources, the description of Duke Meinhard II of Gorizia-Tyrol in 1286 is meticulously described. The last duke installed according to this ancient custom was Ernest the Iron in 1414, the father of Emperor Frederick.

Slovenians regarded the Prince’s Stone as their national symbol of democracy. However, the actual stone has remained in the Austrian part of Carinthia where Slovenian minority still lives.

I also see some colour symbolism in the picture, such as the blue colour symbolizing spiritual wisdom. It would be highly unlikely that the medieval tower would be coloured blue, and even more unlikely that a hill would be as narrow as a tower.

I believe the author of the VM was influenced by the Waldensian religion, a proto-Protestant religion which started out as an ascetic movement within the Western Christianity, known in the late 12th century as the ‘Poor Men of Lyon’, the followers of Waldo who commissioned the translation of the Bible into the vernacular language and preached apostolic poverty. Waldo and his followers were excommunicated as heretic. In 1211, more than 80 Waldensians were burned as heretics at Strasbourg. They were also persecuted in other countries and the movement was nearly destroyed.  Valdensians had a lot in common with Paulicians from the 7th century, and Slavic Bogomil religion.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldensians

Waldensians were also related to the Hussite movement in the 15th century Bohemia and to Bosnian Bogomils, which survived in Bosnia until the mid-15th century. Crusades were launched against all three movements in the 15th century.

It is not clear how these movements were related to Basel Council which had the objective to implement Church reforms and bring about peace between the Church and the Hussites.

Assuming that Nicholas Kempf was the author of the VM, he would have been familiar with Caranthanians and their democratic election of their dukes, as well as with the Old Church Slavonic religion, and Glagolitic writing, practiced up to the 15th century in some parts of Slovenia. He would have known about the persecution of Waldensians, Hussites and Bogomils. He defended some of their ideas, particularly the liturgy in vernacular languages, and changes in the Church Laws.

The two images of the unfinished pyramids could be an allusion of the earthly ascent of human enlightenment (knowledge and wisdom) that could serve for the progress of humanity. Kempf was in favour of more enlightenment and more democracy.

Slovenian language was widely used in Carintia in the medieval times, which could be attributed to the Bohemian/Bogomil influences (promoting schools and liturgy in the vernacular (Slavic) language, although in Latin (not in Glagolitic) writing. It was Charles the Great who imported the  Glagolitic monks from the island of Krk (now in Croatia) and made the proclamation that all princes in the Holy Roman Empire had to learn Slavic languages, besides German and Latin. He also comissioned the Rheims Bible, written in large part in Cyrilic and Glagolitic script.

Protestantism had spread among the Slovenians in present day Austrian Carinthia, however the priests were catering mostly to the German speaking Protestants. The lay teaches should be credited for the wide-spread litteracy of Carinthian Slovenians, so that when the first protestant books were published after 1550 (written in Latin script and in the dialect of present day Dolenjska region), most books were sold in Carinthia. When the Catholic Church has forbidden the possession of the Protestant books, the Slovenians were secretly copying them.

Enlightenment is spreading

I had hard time guessing what the top left corner of the VM Cosmology page could mean. When I saw similar concentrical circles in the work of Hildegard of Bingen, I began to think of it as a symbol of ancient oracles and of expansion.

It has been mentioned that some illustrations in the VM might have been influenced by Hildegard of Bingen. Compared to Hildegard’s picture, there are no rings of angels in the VM picture. In fact, I could not find a single image of an Angel in the VM.  I could not get a description of the picture from the circular writing in the VM, nor can I interpret it from the circles of angels in the Hildegard’s picture.

The art usually lets us guess, so there could be many different answers. One thing seems to be obvious: the circles endless multitude expanding in a circular way. It could be an allusion to the ancient oracles, or to ancient cities, such a s Bagdad. It can also represent generations of people from the past; some more spiritually enlightened in the middle (blue and white colour), spreading their wisdom outward. In the Middle Ages, there were still some circular churches.

There are two images connecting this circle to the one next to it: the lighted candle and a symbol of democracy (as explained above), and an image that looks like five tubes connecting it to the central circle.

Is it a chimney or is it a scroll?

I had seen a suggestion on the internet that these might be chimneys. What factory in those days would have five high chimneys?! The only similar image I was able to find were two ancient scrolls. This is in total agreement with my initial reading of the label OROROL (ORO = pray (in Latin) and ROL (roll of paper in Old French). It would be reasonable that the author would borrow foreign words for something that did not exist in Slovenia at the time. The rolls, too, contain some blue colour, suggesting a spiritual content.

The five scrolls could be an allusion to the five books of the Old Testament. Pointing towards a central circle where similar images are spread all around the outer circle, is suggestive of the books being translated into different languages, and new books added to the universal wisdom.

The image of the Cross made of five circles is much older. It could have been an ancient symbol or talisman.

I do not believe this is just a random decoration. Some VM researchers compare it to the depiction of the Four Winds by Hildegard of Bingen. It is different though, because on Hildegard’s picture, there are four wolves’ heads, while in the VM, there are four blue circles surrounding the large circle. This could be an allusion to spreading the Spiritual message in four directions (north, south, east, west) of the world. At least, this can be assumed from the VM f82r, which is one of the weirdest pictures in the VM. The explanation of this image would be a topic of another post. For now, I would like to point out the label which I transliterate as OROL DAIR. OROL could be translated as ‘prayed’ (sing., masc., past or future tense), but can also refer to scrolls, or to prayer, and DAIR could be translated as ‘giver’ (dair – from the verb: dajati – to repeatedly give).

In the the Greek mythology, the important people were turned into stars, or the constellations of the stars, after their death and in such way they were remembered in the legends. In this VM image, we see a woman in green, perhaps dead, and a blue star above. A line from this star leads to the image of the five circles in the middle of the page and from there to the strange cross on the left side, and a naked woman next to it.

Hildegard explains her vision as winds blowing into four direction. Is it possible that Hildegard did not understand her own vision and explained it incorrectly? By their very nature, the visions are open to interpretation. They are generated from the collective consciousness, or from personal subconscious material. It is possible that she had confussed the words Wends (alternatively spelled as Winds, like Windish Mach – Slavic March in the medieval times) with winds (English word for the moving air). The Winds were the ones to spread Bogomilism and other heresies originating from this Slavic religion. It is also interesting that she placed the image of four winds near the Zodiac images of Ram,Taurus and Gemini.

It is possible that the author of the VM and Hildegard of Bingen had a different view of the Winds/Wends and their religious movement. We know she was more compassionate Christian, more tolerant, yet she was too eager to convert the pagan Slavs and to this end, she supported crusades, while the author of the VM seem to understand their call for the return of the apostolic christianity.

This, too, is suggestive of Nicholas Kempf being the author of the Voynich Manuscript. He was familiar with political and religious situation in Rhineland, as well as with the works of Hildegard of Bingen (since they both came from that region), but unlike Hildegard, he did not write about angels, nor did he condone the crusades.

Conclusion:

As any art, the illustrations in the VM are open for interpretation. I have chosen these interpretations because they reflect the situation in the 15th century Europe.

The VM contains hardly any Christian imagery, yet it reflects Christian spirituality in many ways. The image of the candle and the Princes’ Stone were important religious and political statements, relevant to that time, particularly for Slovenians, who also inhabited Tyrol and Carinthia, because of the strong Germanization.   The image of walled church complex between the two mountains fits the location of the Charterhouse Jurklošter, where Nicholas Kempf served as a prior.

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