The Voynich manuscript, carbon-dated from 1404 to 1438 CE, is largely known for use of an encryption system that no one has been able to decode, but it also has lots of drawings of interest. The vast majority of these drawings are of plants that no one has been able to identify to universal satisfaction. Some of the drawings depict naked women swimming in green water, and a few depict people dressed in medieval clothing. This is one of the latter on folio 71v:

Voynich Manuscript drawing depicting reunion of medieval Cathars

The ram in the middle suggests an April meeting or a reunion of people of the artisan class. No clerics or royalty can be distinguished. The roughly equal distribution of men and women is surprising for medieval times when women were severely subordinated. Only in a protestant religion called Catharism did women have equal rights with men, even to the level of administrating rites.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a fortress alleged to be Montségur

In view of the pointer to Catharism that we just saw, it seems reasonable to suspect that this fortress, depicted on a foldout following folio 86v, is Montségur, the last stronghold of the Cathars, destroyed by a French army in 1244 CE.

The Montségur Mountain

The Montségur fortress was built on top of a limestone mountain with steep slopes, and steep slopes (virtually vertical) are what we see portrayed in the manuscript.

Medieval depiction of the bonfire at Montségur

This is a medieval depiction of the bonfire at Montségur using a few victims to symbolize more than two hundred. In the top right, note the steep winding path going up to the fortress. Note the French soldiers to the left. Above all, note on top a coned tower with balcony and one window, but view of the lower part of the tower is apparently blocked by the mountain. Compare this with the Voynich drawing displaying a coned tower with balcony and windows below the balcony. Very likely, the authors of the Voynich manuscript were Cathars.

The Cathars were a Christian sect and we find evidence of this on folio 79v.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a Cathar holding a Christian cross

Note that she is holding a cross in her left hand.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a Perfecta performing the sacrament of Consolamentum

Catharism had a single sacrament called consolamentum. Essentially, this was a type of baptism administered by the lay clergy (male or female) without water, by placing the right hand on the recipient's forehead. That is what we see in this Voynich drawing on folio 80v.

A hundred and seventy years separate the seige of Montségur and the redaction of the Voynich manuscript so we must assume that the manuscript was written by descendants of the Cathars who fled the fortress in the 13th century. Indeed, a few Cathars were reported to have escaped by making a daring descent down the steep slopes, carrying with them a great "treasure" believed by some to have been the sacred text of their religion. A wide search was undertaken to track them down but they were never found. Where did they go?

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a rainforest plant

This is one of the exotic plants depicted in the Voynich manuscript. Neither this plant on folio 2v nor any of more than one hundred other plants depicted in the manuscript have ever been unambiguously identified with any European plant, leading many scholars to conclude that the Voynich plants are pure fantasy.

Ivan Mikolji photograph of a freshwater rainforest plant

This here is a modern photograph – licensed from Ivan Mikolji – of an freshwater plant found in the Morichal district of Venezuela. It’s a plant without branches or leaves and has the same color and shape as the Voynich depiction. On the plant in the rear, we see a stem similar to the stem depicted in the manuscript.

The only major distinction is that the Voynich manuscript depicts a white flower on the upper right side of the plant.

Close-up view of the bud of a rainforest plant from Ivan Mikilji photograph

Now let's look at a closeup of the upper right side (the same position) of the forward plant. Notice that there's a little green bud that offers every potential of blossoming into a flower. Beyond revisiting that plant, botanists can determine if it is theoretical possible for filaments to come together and wind themselves into a single stem.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a plant stem, folio 2v

As you can see, the Voynich depiction is somewhat suggestive of a winding.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of Cathar women wading in a rainforest pond

The Voynich gives us many drawings portraying life and survival in the swamps. The girls on folio 75r are seen walking through water infested with plant life and that's why it's colored green. Although the water is only a couple of feet deep, the girls cannot see through it. Note the girl holding a stick with a stretched-out arm; that is not a support stick but a measuring stick, to measure the depth of the water before advancing. She cannot see the bottom. Now look at the girl up front: she's relaxing, literally floating on her back. The plant growth is so dense that it gives buoyancy to the water, making it easy for her to float on her back.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of rainforest women washing themselves with rainwater

Swamp water was surely dirty. On folio 84r we see the girls lined up to wash off the dirt with rainwater, which they colored blue.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of Cathar women imagining themselves to be mermaids

The Voynich manuscript also portrays the dangers of life in the swamps. On folio 79v we see a hybrid of a spotted jaguar with crocodilian head, representing two of the most dangerous predators of the swamps. The girls portray themselves as a hybrid of woman and fish (mermaid) given that they spend half their life in the trees and half in the water below. The mermaid is looking up at her friends located high in the tree running up the entire left side of the page, matching contemporary photographs of the Morichal landscape: tall trees rising alongside swamp water.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of vials for mixing herbs

Besides exploring and cataloging the plants, the girls spend their time collecting herbs to make medicines, grinding the herbs together in vials like these seen on the left side of folio 88v.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a South American tapir

This bizarre animal depicted at the end of the section on herbal medicine (folio 102v) is a South American tapir (also known as the Brazilian tapir), a large mammal never seen in Europe during medieval times.

Wikimedia Commons provides us with a photograph:

Wikimedia Commons photograph of a South American tapir

Take note of the elongated pointed head, of nose, eye and ear located on a straight line, of the short cylindrical tail, and compare with the Voynich drawing.

The skin of the tapir, an animal related to the rhinoceros, is too thick for fine leather but is used to make items like saddles for horses and durable sandals for humans. It would also have been the ideal material to make vials for mixing and mashing the diverse herbs into medicinal concoctions and also for storing them. Roughly forty of these vials are reflected alongside herbs in the manuscript. In other words, it is perfectly logical and rational that a depiction of the tapir would appear on the same page and immediately following the last depiction of a vial.

If anyone thinks that the Voynich drawing does not depict a tapir, but rather some plant or animal that lived in Europe during the early 15th century, please feel free to send an email to letting us know what you think it is and what evidence you have to support such a conclusion.

Evidence in support of Made-in-the-Americas continues on the Q&A page.