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:

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.

Naamloos-8 kopiëren.jpg

f17r: Side Wound and Holy Lance

Naamloos-20 kopiëren.jpg

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!”

Naamloos-25 kopiëren

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.

Naamloos-11 kopiëren.jpg


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.

Naamloos-6 kopiëren.jpg

F35r: Chalice

This one is fairly obvious, f35r represents a chalice. The roots even form a foot.

Naamloos-13 kopiëren.jpg

f38r: two torches, two clubs

Naamloos-15 kopiëren


f40v: Sun

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.

Naamloos-17 kopiëren.jpg

f50r: Eclipse

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.

Naamloos-19 kopiëren

f42v: Lantern/Brazier

Arma Christi also includes a lantern, sometimes carried on a stick.

Naamloos-21 kopiëren.jpg

f93r: Sponge-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?

Naamloos-23 kopiëren.jpg


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.