Luxeuil minuscule. Guglielmo Libri.

[typo corrected in text and header 18/10/2015]

Just for interest  – a detail in the life-story of Guglielmo Libri. Evidently he paid some attention to the abbey of Luxeuil, which had a unique script, known as Luxeuil miniscule  Luxeuil minuscule  (thank, you Mina) during the 7th and 8th centuries, but according to this online page* that script was never used again after “the destruction of the monastery of Luxeuil in 732 by the Saracens”.

luxeuil2 miniscule

* where this picture comes from, and which has others.

There’s one definite connection between the Luxeuil and the Voynich manuscript. In 1968 Edwin J. Beinecke acquired a number of manuscripts from H.P. Kraus, MS Beinecke 408 being one, of course, but also MS Beinecke 389, Expositio In Marci Evangelium Bedae Opera. VII. Siecle. Like the Vms, this had also spent time in England before coming to America, but this one in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps.  The Yale catalogue entries are split (and linked) between the Beinecke Rare Books site and the Orbis Yale catalogue. Thing is, Phillipps had bought books from Guglielmo Libri. The Marci Evangelium… etc says nothing remarkable.

Purchased by Sir Thomas Phillipps (no. 16249). Sold to H. P. Kraus from whom it was purchased in 1968 by Edwin J. Beinecke for the Beinecke Library

BUT MS Beinecke 401A is one originally nicked/purchased by Guglielmo Libri, because the Beinecke catalogue entry (written up by Barbara Shailor, as it happens) says so:

For the origin and early provenance of these two fragments see MS 401. Belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (no. 20688, ff. 9, 10) who acquired them from Guglielmo Libri (1802-69; his sale, Sotheby’s, 28 March – 5 April 1859, no. 1111, f. 2r illustrated in pl. xxv). In the Phillipps sale of 25 Nov. 1969 (Sotheby’s, New Series, Medieval Manuscripts, Part V)

And it gets better  if you’re a member of the Grolier Club.  Their website says:

The cornerstone of the Club’s archival holdings on book collecting is the Phillipps Collection, [which has] some three thousand books, manuscripts, and letters pertaining to Sir Thomas Phillipps, the great nineteenth-century English bibliomaniac.

The Library’s autograph collections include letters documenting the bookish activities of Jean Grolier, Thomas Wotton (the “English Grolier”), Jacques de Thou, Cardinal Mazarin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, and … you guessed it: Guglielmo Libri.

To view the general list of the Phillipps folders and boxes, try here because navigating from the main page isn’t easy.

I’m not saying that MS Beinecke 408 was nicked by Guglielmo; but it is tempting to wonder if, as he was dying in Fiesole in 1869, he didn’t confess and give the last of his manuscripts to the most eminent man in town, especially they had in fact been “sourced” in the first place from Jesuit- or other religious libraries.

What intrigues me now, is the Guglielmo-Peiresc connection –  because there is one. Just as there’s a Kircher-Peiresc connection. Barsch’s letter to Kircher conveys its writer’s belief that the now-Voynich manuscript is about “ancient Egyptian medicine”.

So what if Kircher, rather stumped, decided to save face by sending it off to Peiresc for an opinion? And then… but now I am writing novels, a very bad habit of the Voynichero. And besides, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc died in 1637, about the same time that the first set of copies were sent to Kircher, which is 18 months or so before Barsch’s letter to Kircher in 1639(?), and another thirty years would pass before Kircher ever got the manuscript.  Doesn’t mean that Beckx didn’t get it from Guglielmo, of course. But that’s just another story.  🙂

Here’s a picture of Columbanus, founder of the monastery at Luxeuil. Yes, it was an Irish-founded monastery, which means that its deepest roots were in Egypt and in Roman style Christianity, not so much.  It also means that Luxeuil, in its early days, would have seen that trail of  Irish peripatetics, enduring what was called the “white martyrdom”, monastic life being the “green-” (at least according to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization).


PS… and NO, Columbanus doesn’t “look like” the lady with the nail on f.72v.  And I very much doubt (which in less polite terms means “not a hope, mate”) that the ‘bathing ladies’ of the Voynich manuscript were disporting in the physical waters of Luxeuil.

Columbanus at Luxeuil

Columbanus at Luxeuil


  1. If Beckx obtained the Voynich manuscript from among those that Libri had, it could not have been directly. One way it might have occurred is via Libri’s friend, Count Manzoni, who also had a villa in Fiesole and to whom Libri had entrusted the remainder of his collection before dying.

    Both Manzoni and Beckx were in Fiesole after 1873. Manzoni’s own collection was sold following his death, the catalogues showing that by then only one or two of Libri’s manuscripts were still in it, or else they had been excluded from the sale. It is quite possible that Manzoni had made efforts to return items stolen from monastic and other collections, for by all accounts he was an honourable man who would not stoop to theft or deception to further his own ambitions, despite his love of books. Some from Libri’s manuscripts are known to have been sold off by Libri’s relative and heir. How many is not known, nor who purchased them, and there is no record of what happened to the rest of Libri’s manuscript collection between the time it was placed with Manzoni in 1868-9, and when Manzoni died.


  2. I might add that the content of my published posts about Libri reflects the earliest stages of an investigation which – being pursued further – turned up far more solid information. Given the difficulties which have been caused me, and a publisher, by unattributed use (and, more often mis-use) of matter published online, I have not shared the later stages of my research into this matter.


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