A little more about Fiesole

The Jesuit centre in Fiesole where Fr.Beckx went from Rome to reside for thirteen years, is close by  two fifteenth-century buildings constructed at the order of Cosimo de Medici’:  one is a Medici villa and the other a former monastery known now as the Villa San Girolamo.

It was also at Fiesole that Guido di Pietro became ‘Fra Angelico’ and – according to Vasari – worked first as a book-illuminator. Leonardo’s first attempt to fly occurred in Fiesole too. (No, it’s not an argument, just an appreciation).

And – as you may know – it was  also in Fiesole that Guglielmo Libri died in his own villa in 1869, passing on his remaining manuscripts to the care of his nominated executor Count Giacomo Manzoni, who was a renowned bibliophile in his own right, with a personal collection of more than  300,000 books (yes, three hundred thousand).   Fiesole may be small, but it’s an interesting place.


Villa Medici in Fiesole, detail from a painting by Ghirlandaio.

On the other hand, if we turn to Parma, a place which Wilfrid mentioned in some early accounts of the manuscript’s past, we have a 12thC document from a very short-lived monastery once existing there, San Savino in Piacenza. As you see, and as Jim reeds said when introducing it to the old mailing list, that document has ” glorious gallow [letters] all over it” [6].

script 12thC gallows Parma Capelli Dictionary

image from a post to the old Voynich mailing list.

That ‘gallows-rich’ document was published in Cappelli’s Dizionario  di Abbreviature Latini ed Italiani (as jim noted) an edition of which had been published in Milan in 1912. I cannot help but wonder whether that is where Voynich got the idea for mentioning  Parma. Who knows?

But here’s the thing. Why did the Jesuits leave Fr.Beckx’ trunk with all the books in it for 25 years after his death? Being a Jesuit, Beckx had no personal property, and normally all the things he’d had for his own use in life would have immediately been redistributed or, in the case, of books, returned to wherever they should have been.

And if the books had been in the trunk so long… wasn’t there something about some chap going to the Villa Mondragone (or somewhere) and the librarian checking the shelves and saying that it should have been there, but wasn’t?  Doesn’t that imply some sort of recognised description of the work, and a catalogue which told which shelf it should have been on? 

Or are we saying that the the librarian had just remembered its proper position for all those  25 (or 25+13) years?

But if there were a shelf-list, why is there no sign of any accession number other than one which is ascribed to Wilfrid’s hand?

And if there were a catalogue only – sorry, but wouldn’t any Voynichero give their eye teeth to be able to read an original description of the manuscript, from the library which (supposedly) used to have it on their shelves?  And wouldn’t the information be worth a fair bit in terms of Voynich studies?  

All a bit awkward… unless …


  1. A note which is included on Rene Zandbergen’s website says that, according to Giacomo Martina, Fr. Beckx stayed in Fiesole at San Girolamo rather than the main Jesuit house, adding that the property had only been acquired by the Jesuits ‘in the previous year’ from a family named Ricasoli, in case it became needed.


  2. Apparently, the site had been first a fourteenth-century hermitage for the Hermits of St. Jerome, passing only in the fifteenth to the Augustinians who expanded it at the expense of Cosimo the Elder between 1445 and 1451. Michelozzo did the work, as he did for the newly-built Medici villa below. During the seventeenth century, the complex was rebuilt, though the cloister was left almost intact. In the same century, it passed into private hands and was then annexed to the Ricasoli family villa nearby.

    A panel by Fra Angelo remains in the church, which dates to the fifteenth century.


  3. For a manuscript associated with the Hermits of St.Jerome, in Fiesole, see: Enlumiers site

    In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment
    Italy, dated 1518.

    It is a digest, or reduced version of the full matter in an original. Known as a “libellus” – related to the term by which Kircher described the Vms in a letter to Moretus.


  4. Can’t resist adding this, though I doubt it has any relevance for MS Beinecke 408.
    Vasari says that Michelangelo was ‘put out to nurse’ at Settignano, a hill among those surrounding Fiesole, and (again as Vasari says), “filled with quarries for macigno.”

    In his Additional Notes on the Divine Comedy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow added for Dante’s Canto 15 , (i.e. the verse: ” But that ungrateful and malignant people / Which of old time from Fesole descended / And smacks still of the mountain and the granite.”), the following note:

    MACIGNO, which I have rendered ” granite,” is, — according to Ferber, ‘Travels through Italy in 1771-72′ ; Raspe’s translation, London, 1776, p. 91, — “A micaceous stone, consisting of clay and some lime; appearing rather to be entirely composed of glimmer. In the uppermost
    strata it is shivery, but very compact and hard in a greater depth. Hence Petrarch’s and other poets’ petti di macigno of their unyielding cruel fair ones.”

    And further on, p. 269, ” There remains at Fiesole a piece of an old Etruscan wall, consisting in large square-cut stones of macigno, which are put together without cement. The present quarries of macigno near Fiesole are situated on the hill called Ceceri, and in another over against to the southwest called Settignano. All the other hills hereabout consist likewise of macigno, bordering on. calcareous hills, such as Monte Morello and others. I have noticed already in one of my former Letters that macigno is a species of slate, composed of an argillaceous earth, much mica, and some lime.”

    [” Macigno” says Gherardini in ‘Supplimento a Vocabulari Italiani’,
    *’ being derived from the word marine, mill-stone, is used properly only
    of those stones of which mill-stones are made .. — N.]

    the whole of Longfellow’s Additional Notes are available online


  5. An important point, just recalled on re-reading an essay by Giulio Menna which is available on academia.edu
    “Cosimo de’ Medici ordered from [Vespasiano da Bisticci, a stationer/bookseller] copies of 200 manuscripts in order to furnish the Badia of Fiesole and gave the Florentine cartolaio two years to carry out the assigned job. Vespasiano hired then 45 scribes to finish the huge amount of assigned work in time.”
    Giulio Menna, ‘On Humanistic script’ (essay) 2011/12


  6. It’s really quite marvellous how often you see a wiki article go up within days after you’ve looked in vain for something-or-other. Does Google analytics have a team of tame writers providing something when the search-engines show it has been looked for?

    The wiki article about San Savino is dated April 25th., 2014 and I saw nothing like it when I posted on April 4th. This happens so often that I’m really curious. Do readers think that these wiki-writers are real, or just terribly clever imo-bots?


  7. The wiki article says that the ‘Hieronymite order’ had the monastery at San Savino from c.1500-1800, but that’s not what my sources indicated – blast these poorly footnoted wiki-things. It reads:
    In the 1500s, the church became property of the Hieronymite order, who reconstructed the church.. In the 18th century, the church interior was decorated i… hiding much [i.e. many] of the original …details. In 1721, the present facade was built. Among the works of art in the church is a wooden crucifix and frescoes from the 12th century and a 15th-century frescoe (sic) ..
    In a hospice caring for orphans and abandoned infants (Ospizio degli Orfani ed Esposti) was established, with sixty children, in the old Girolamini monastery attached to San Savino in Piacenza.

    The English here is a little unusual, so I expect this article was a by real person, whose first language is other than English.


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