There is a medieval tradition called Arma Christi or Instruments of the Passion. In such images, many objects that somehow played a role in Christ’s final moments are depicted together, often around a crucified Jesus or a “Man of Sorrows”.
While researching my previous post about the five Holy Wounds, I came to a growing understanding that the Arma Christi play an important role in the symbolic elements we find worked into the Voynich large plant drawings. I don’t have enough time to write about this as much as I would like, and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future, so I have decided to write up a quick blog post now, outlining my main idea about the subject.
Having come to the understanding that Christian imagery has had an important role in the shaping of the large-plant section has come as a shock to me. It has shattered some of my deepest convictions about what the manuscript could and could not contain. But someone once told me to keep an open mind and always follow the evidence, so here we are. If I have built up any credibility over the last months, I would like to use this now, and implore the reader to approach this post with the same attitude. Know that I have rarely been as convinced of anything regarding the VM as I am about this.
The Instruments of the Passion
For this post, I will assume that the reader is familiar with the story of the Passion. The Arma Christi are objects that have played a part in the various stages of this story. In the previous post, I already mentioned the Holy Lance and the Holy Wounds as examples (in several versions, the Wounds themselves are part of the Instruments).
To understand this post, we must first familiarize ourselves with the Arma Christi, to know what to expect. The set of Instruments depicted in a single image varies, going from a dozen to three dozen. Some of the details are not always clear – for example, experts don’t always know for sure who are meant with the human faces included – but there are some common and straightforward items as well. The Wiki has a decent, though not exhaustive overview, which I’ll copy-paste and shorten a bit below:
- The Cross either depicted alone or with the crosses of the two thieves
- The Crown of Thorns
- The pillar or column where Jesus was whipped in the Flagellation of Christ
- The whip(s), in Germany often birches, used for the 39 lashes
- The Holy Sponge set on a reed, with which gall and vinegar were offered to Jesus
- The Holy Lance
- The Nails
- The Veil of Veronica
- The reed which was placed in Jesus’ hand as a sceptre in mockery
- The purple robe of mockery
- The Titulus Crucis
- The Holy Grail
- The Seamless robe of Jesus
- The dice with which the soldiers cast lots for Christ’s seamless robe
- The rooster (cock) that crowed after Peter’s third denial of Jesus
- The vessel used to hold the gall and vinegar
- The ladder used for the Deposition
- The hammer used to drive the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet
- The pincers used to remove the nails
- The vessel of myrrh, used to anoint the body of Jesus
- The shroud used to wrap the body of Jesus before burial
- The sun and moon, representing the eclipse which occurred during the Passion
- Thirty pieces of silver (or a money bag), the price of Judas’ betrayal
- A spitting face, indicating the mockery of Jesus
- The hand which slapped Jesus’ face
- The chains or cords which bound Jesus overnight in prison
- The lantern or torches used by the arresting soldiers at the time of the betrayal, as well as their swords and staves
- The sword used by Peter to cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Sometimes a human ear is also represented.
- Sometimes the heads or hands of figures from the Passion are shown, including Judas, Caiaphas, or the man who mocked Christ spitting in Christ’s face. The washing hands of Pontius Pilate may be shown.
- The trumpet played for mocking Christ on the Way to Calvary.
In the following sections, I will present a number of Voynich plants which allude in some way to one or more Arma Christi. There should be more, but this is just a quick proof of concept. Ordered by current folio number. All comparative imagery used in this post comes from Arma Christi manuscripts (and a few Arma Christi paintings).
f10v & f32v: Rooster and Pelican
There are two shapes of long-tailed sitting bird profiles in the VM roots. Similarly there are two birds in Arma Christi, the rooster and the pelican. They are almost always shown sitting in profile, though their appearance varies.
f17r: Side Wound and Holy Lance
I discussed this in detail in the previous post. This folio includes both the Side Wound and leaves like lance points.
f17v: grotesque bearded profile
A surprising amount of Arma Christi pages include a mean-looking man with a long beard shown in profile. The side view is apparently to imply his bad intentions directed at the Christ figure. It is not always clear who he is supposed to represent, but I believe he is of the Pharisee type. This might mean that the hairy bumps in the root of this plant are camel bumps after all, as has been suggested before, since Jesus mentioned a camel in one of his trademark Pharisee burns:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
f34v: Thirty coins
The coins paid to Judas are shown in a variety of ways: in a bag, a purse, as a mass poured out of a hand. Sometimes though, they are carefully counted in a grid, or three rows of ten. In the VM, there are 29 coins, they forgot one on the top left branch.
f35v: Pillar of Flagellation with twining ropes, two Whips
The plants on this folio are known among Voynich researchers as “oak and ivy”. The identification of the climbing plant as ivy has been problematic, since ivy usually clings closer to the host, and has leaves.
The best Arma Christi parallels for this plant (so far) are from this manuscript. Note the way the ropes twine around the pillar. The two whips held by disembodied hands (a common Arma Christi trope) are parallelled in the roots. It is thematically appropriate that the Column and whips are joined in the same plant.
This one is fairly obvious, f35r represents a chalice. The roots even form a foot.
f38r: two torches, two clubs
The Instruments also include a Sun and a Moon. The Sun is represented in the huge flower on f40v. This drawing includes some motifs that we also find in the Cosmological VM pages, which makes this even more fascinating.
Normal Arma Christi use a separate Sun and a Moon to represent the eclipse that took place when Jesus died. The VM brilliantly one-ups them by having a hole where the Sun was in f40v. I don’t know if they made the hole or planned this around an existing blemish, but either way it’s wonderful.
Arma Christi also includes a lantern, sometimes carried on a stick.
I’m not certain which plant represents the sponge on a stick they soaked in “sour wine” or vinegar to give Jesus something to drink, but I hope it’s this one… Has anything ever looked more spongy?
There are many more plants that likely refer to the Arma Christi, but these are some of the most obvious ones. Therefore, I would argue that the Passion of Christ was used as a linking device between a certain set of VM large-plant folios. The internet is swamped with Arma Christi images and I have limited time to flesh out this discovery. Luckily J.K.Petersen was quick to catch on and find some of the more relevant examples, a number of which are included in this post.
I don’t know yet what all of this means, this is new to me. Probably, if we take folio/bifolio order into account, we can come to a better understanding of the process involved. I get the impression that this was done with much care and thought, and there is probably more to it than just random Instruments of the Passion added to plant images.
I expect this post to meet some resistance from various angles. Some (which would have included myself before) will reject the Christian theme a priori. Others will have difficulties with the supposed symbolic content of the plants. But perhaps some readers will understand the unusual degree of correspondence between the Instruments of the Passion and so many VM plant elements.