Geomancy Almanac

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Geomancy Almanac

Geomantie manuscript decoration


Geomantie manuscript volvelle


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. g

"Almanac for the year 1552 after the birth of Christ our Savior, which is a leap year. The golden number is 14, the sun circle 21, the Roman tax number 10*, the first Sunday-[C] lasts until the 21st of Hornungs. The other Sunday-[B] lasts until the end of the year. Between Christmas and the Lord's "Night of Fasting" (Ash Wednesday eve), are 9 weeks 2 days. The calendar shows the other festivals, movable and immovable, and also the course of the moon and other necessary observations are interpreted with following characters or signs."
[This is a slight paraphrase of a translation kindly provided by John D of Yale U.]
(*The Romans assessed taxes in 15 year cycles)


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. f


Geomantie - lunar calendar


Geomantie - moon phases


Geomantie - moon phase calendar


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. h


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. e


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. b


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. c


Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. d


Count Otto-Henry (Otto-Heinrich or more usually, Ottheinrich) (1502-1559) was a memeber of the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavarian Germany. A small territory was created around Neuburg on the Rhine River not long after Ottheinrich's birth which became his principality within the (very) convoluted Palatinate region of the Holy Roman Empire.

Ottheinrich was a keen supporter of the arts and sciences and a convert to the Lutheran Reformation which he championed in his hereditary homelands. He was also an avid bibliophile, becoming the most important collector of books of the German Renaissance. His extravagant outlays on manuscripts and books (and castle building) in Neuburg left him bankrupt in the 1540s and he went into exile (still expanding his private library) for some ten years when his debts had to be paid by the people of his principality.

In 1556 his fortunes were reversed after a relative died and he became Prince Elector of the Palatinate. Now in Heidelberg, Ottheinrich set about renovating the university with the help of the humanist Phillip Melanchthon, and he also added an elaborate wing to his newly inherited Heidelberg Castle. As a consequence, his own library from the castle (which now included the exquisite manuscript output of the Lorsch Monastery) was relocated and combined with the university holdings and opened to the public - later becoming known as 'Bibliotheca Palatina' - in the Church of the Holy Spirit. By the end of 1556 the holdings consisted of "6,400 titles, including 4,800 prints, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts".

Ottheinrich wasn't content with just collecting books. He arranged for illuminators to complete unfinished manuscripts, others were copied and the majority were bound with some of the most elaborate bookbindings ever produced. It's hard to overestimate the importance of his contributions to the intellectual development of Europe - by the time of his death, the library was one of the most celebrated collections in Europe. [I'm thinking of adopting him as the official patron of BibliOdyssey: Ottheinrich has inadvertently contributed to a whole bunch of posts here]

Either because of his fervent belief in the Reformation or his unabated passion for book collecting or because of the sad realisation that he had not produced an heir (or more likely: a combination of all three), Ottheinrich left specific provisions in his will for the expansion and development of the library which had its peak by the end of the 16th century. Alas, the Thirty Years War intervened and the Catholic League took over Heidelberg in the 1620s. This led to the entire collection (apart from the books destroyed during the seige/sacking of the city) of over 3,500 manuscripts and some 13,000 printed works being appropriated by the victors in the name of the Vatican. They were transported to Munich by wagons and then taken across the Alps on mules for delivery to the Pope. Most works are still in Rome but some of the collection (about ninety items) was returned to Heidelberg in the early 19th century.

The above images come from a manuscript commissioned by Ottheinrich which was completed between 1552 and 1557 (calligraphy by Heinrich R├╝dinger and illumination by Albrecht Glockendon [attributed]). It's title is 'Geomantie' (Geomancy) - Codex Palatinus 833 Germanicus. The title is misleading really. This is not a work of geomancy* as any reference material describes it, although there may have been a broader medieval definition which has since been superseded. *(see: i, ii)

'Geomantie' Cod. Pal. 833 Ger. is hosted by Heidelberg University: click 'Einband vorne' (front cover) and then the '-' sign at the top of the page for thumbnail views. [The elaborate binding with its clasps and embossing was used as the model for an extravagant (and very expensive) facsimile edition of the Ottheinrich Bible (I recently noted the sale of the original for squillions at Sothebys)].

The outstanding 'Geomantie' parchment manuscript of about one hundred pages is more a combination of astrological/astronomical treatise, religious almanac and prediction calendar. About one half of it is directly copied from a manuscript known as the 'Schicksalsbuch' (Book of Destiny) which was produced in the 1490s and is itself an assemblage of various astrological works. The images below of moveable disks (volvelle) are from the 'Schicksalsbuch', which is much longer than the 'Geomantie' manuscript.

I think the illustration/illumination work is generally of a superior quality in the 'Geomantie' -vs- the 'Schicksalsbuch' despite it being less 'polished' overall. This view may stem from the difference in digitisation qualities between the manuscripts; but having the ability to compare two such similar works from ~five hundred years ago is a fairly unique opportunity nevertheless. (I wasn't aware of the earlier manuscript until well after I'd jagged all the above images and only after some needed translation help arrived)

The spectacular full page images up at the top (there are only two) and those below are all volvelles (rotating paper wheel charts) and were used for various computations such as calculating the time and the lunar phases. The zodiac images on the wheels could be aligned with the night sky and the disk turned to reveal desired incremental measurements. Some were able to function as astrolabes, to give approximate positions of ships at sea.


For those who read German, there is quite a lot of information related to 'Geomantie' and Ottheinrich online. For the rest of us there are bits and pieces. I am greatly indebted to the translation assistance and thoughts provided by John D of Yale University and Kristine. Thank you! No doubt I've not really done their input justice.



Schicksalsbuch volvelle


Schicksalsbuch - astrolabe

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