Consisting of about 240 vellum pages, the Voynich Manuscript (previously unnamed) is an illustrated document believed to be from the early 15th century. Although many possible authors have been suggested, nothing about this document is known, from author and content, to the language used. It has been described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”.
The text, generally thought to be encoded, has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British military codebreakers from both world wars – without success.
This mystery has excited popular imagination, giving rise to the most romantic and fanciful theories.
The manuscript, which appears to cover topics such as botany, astrology, astronomy, cosmology, pharmacology and biology, has been attributed to Roger Bacon, the English Franciscan philosopher and polymath (c.1214-94).
At the end of the 16th century, the manuscript was bought by Emperor Rudolf II to enrich his collection. The first page carries the signature of Jacobus Sinapius of Tepenec, personal physician to the emperor. This renowned Czech alchemist, a specialist in herbal medicine and curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was therefore considered its author.
In the early 17th century, the Voynich Manuscript was in the possession of Jiri Bareš, an obscure Czech alchemist who lived in Prague. On his death, the manuscript passed to his friend Johannes Marcus Marci, then rector of Charles University. A few years later the rector sent the document to Athanasius Kircher, his correspondent and long-time friend.
The manuscript is now named after the 20th century book dealer who bought it in 1912, Wilfrid M. Voynich, and is in the collection of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.