Historical note – Magister Beradus

The author’s rights are asserted.

c.2000 words

Beradus (also found as Berado, Beradus occasionally Berardo) was not an common name in medieval Italy, but neither was it unique.

The name is of interest to Voynich studies only because of occasional efforts to find points of connection between images in Beinecke MS 408 and the so-called ‘Manfredus Herbal’.

Because the present note – from records of the Commune of Genoa – is an afterword to my earlier comment on the figure known as ‘Manfredus’, I begin by re-printing matter from that earlier post.


from: D.N. O’Donovan, ‘A note on Manfredus of Monte…’ voynichimagery, (July 10th., 2016)

detail from the “Manfredi” compilation. BNF [MS] Lat 6823

The compilation in BNF [MS] Lat 6823 is sometimes referred to as the Manfredi or ‘Manfredus’ herbal  because, in addition to its copy of Liber de herbis et plantisDe avibus et piscibus, and texts by Nicholaus, it contains an appendix annotated by one “Manfredus de Monte Imperiali”. 

The difficulty has been caused by historians’ uncertainty over what place might be meant by ‘Monte Imperiali’.

If you look online for ‘Monte Imperiali’ you may be directed towards Kaiserberg or Lombardy, or even to Siena,[1]  but I think, with Minta Collins (see comment following) that the Manfred who compiled the manuscript now in Paris is more likely the one whom Calvanico links to Montepeloso..

[1] Poggibonsi near Siena, having been destroyed in 1270 by Guelfs of Florence, was intended by the emperor Henry VII to be rebuilt and re-named Monte Imperiale.  Since Henry announced that intention in 1313,  and died in the same year,  “the work” as the wiki puts it “did not survive him”, and one cannot suppose  that the intended name was ever much used.

from Minta Collins, Medieval Herbals: The Illustrative Traditions, University of Torotonto Press (2000).

I see no reason why it could not be this “Manfredi di maestro Berardo da Montepeloso medicus” who annotated BNF Lat 6823.

Where “de” in Latin would indicate belonging: i.e. Manfredus “of” Monte Imperiali,  I am told that use of  “di”  signifies instead “migration from one place to another.”  In other words “di” signifies that Manfredi had been sent off, or out, from Montepeloso at the behest of master ‘Berardo’, a medicus. Montepeloso is underlined in red on the map below. Its modern name is Irsina.

To imagine why any young man sent ‘abroad’ from the far south would describe himself, in inscribing his manuscript, as from “Monte Imperiali” rather than from “Montepeloso” is not difficult.

Coming from the far south, he could expect in any case to to be mocked by urbanites where he went to study and to copy the manuscripts, but being obliged to say he had “come from Mount Hairy” would surely have been insupportable.

Irsina (Montepeloso) today.

Nor was there any deceit about describing Montepeloso’s town as an Imperial mount, for until Frederick II had given the town to the Order of Friars minor at some time after 1250 AD, it had been an royal possession and part of Frederick II’s inheritance when he became King of Sicily in 1197. Since Frederick was emperor from 1220 onwards, the donation would have been an imperial one. The Order of Friars Minor – better known as the Franciscans – had been recognised in 1209 AD and at the time enjoyed much popular support for their simplicity and preaching a gospel of peace.

Even today the Montepeloso monastery is a Franciscan holding, though the monastery no longer owns the surrounding lands.

The early fourteenth century date, when those entries were made which were noted by Calvanico, accord well with the date now given for the ‘Manfredus’ herbal (BNF Latin 6823 – Southern Italy, first half of the XIV Century). It is interesting to note that the period when ‘Manfredus of Montepeloso’ is mentioned in Cavanico is that from one harvest time to the next (September 1328 AD – August 1329 AD).

However, if Manfredi can be argued a native of Montepeloso, the opposite might be argued for Mastro Berardo who had become its ‘medicus’.  As a surname Berardo/Berado had been in existence for little more than a century, emerging after the canonisation in 1123 AD of a saint Berardo from “the valleys of Maira, which lie south of Turin” where the saint had been born. [2]

[2] I have this information from one of those ‘family crests and mottos’ sites online that you go to at your own peril.

Another Berardo features in Frederick’s history. 

Berardo surnamed “di Castaca” (1214-52) seems to have been someone sent out from, or for historical reasons possibly displaced from, Terni.

Terni had been sacked by Christian of Mainz, about twenty years’ before Frederick was made king of Sicily, Christian was an archbishop, but did justice neither to his name or his religious calling. He joined Barbarossa’s army and gained the rank of general, leading his soldiers in the sack of Terni and other towns.  Hardly surprising that the townsfolk embraced St. Francis’ teaching the ways of Christian peace and poverty, or that Terni was often visited by that gentle saint.

The Berardo di Castaca, who was perhaps a refugee from Terni, was made a diplomat by Frederick, with the particular task of mediating between Frederick and the papacy.

Postscript: According to a travel agency website , The townsfolk of Montepeloso (mod. Irsina) are said to have their own language, or dialect, known as Irsenese.


ADDITION – 4th March 2022.

In the Records of the Republic of Genoa is an agreement made on July 26th., 1239 between “comune Ianue” (Genoa) and “Romanam Ecclesiam et Veneciarum”, the representative of Genoa being the commune’s podestà, Filippo Vicedominus, and Venetian interests represented by one maestro Berado whom the Genoese notary describes only as ‘legato pontificio’ but who later in the document describes himself more grandiloquently:

Ego vero magister Beradus, domini pape subdiaconus et notarius et Apostolice Sedis nuncius, nomine et vice domini pape et Romane Ecclesie… (p.51 ff.)

as a subdeacon (not an ordained priest), this Beradus would not have been prohibited from serving as a ‘medicus’ within certain limits, but could still not to practice as a qualified physician. We have no evidence that he had any special interest in medicine. Only the document’s date and its reference to Syracuse and to Sicily makes it worth mention here. (See also ‘Castle of Trisobbio‘)

quoted from:


I. Libri Iurium della Repubblica di Genova Vol. I/4 Edited by Sabina Dellacasa.



Postscript – re Minta Collins’ book.

re: Minta Collins, Medieval Herbals: The Illustrative Traditions, University of Toronto Press (2000).

Given the constant reference to Minta Collins’ book by Voynicheros, I think a balance needs to be struck. Here are some among the comments made by reviewers when Collins’ book was published.

Alain Touwaide wrote:

.. Although much material has been published on herbals in recent times, Collins rightly asserts that no synthesis is available. She does not fulfill her promises, however. First of all, her inventory of the primary sources is seriously incomplete. ..

Second, the description of manuscripts is not always the result of a firsthand study, and, in any case, data are not always reported with the required exactness. (As example he speaks of a manuscript ” in Salamanca, University Library, 2659, [which she has] cited under three different locations and in no case with the correct shelfmark: Madrid, Royal Library, 44, where it was held until 1958 (p. 96 n 39); Madrid, National Library, palat. reg. 44, where it has never been (p. 324); and Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria, gr. 2659, with a reference to a Greek collection that does not exist (p. 109 n 271; also pp. 325, 328).

A third problem is that Collins’s method is inappropriate. She follows the probable chronological sequence of the manuscripts, even claiming that such a procedure allows her to observe the evolution of plant representations closely (p. 167). But this method is based on a mistaken assumption: in manuscript studies, there is always the possibility that a later codex reflects a more ancient stage of transmission better than an earlier manuscript. A good example is provided by the Arabic herbals studied here. Collins begins with the manuscript Leiden or. 289, dated A.H. 475 A.D. 1083 (pp. 115–124), which contains a revision of a De Materia Medica ninth-century translation. However, a later manuscript (Istanbul, Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, Ayasofia 3703, dated A.H. 612 A.D. 1224) allows reconstruction of an earlier stage of the text’s presence in the Arabic world. This codex closely reproduced a ninth-century manuscript and contains plant representations with two characteristic features: they are similar to those of the Greek manuscript supposed to transmit the original version of De Materia Medica, and they include additive elements that also appear in pavement mosaics of churches (particularly of the sixth century) located in contemporary Jordan.

Judging from published evidence, this kind of motif was typical of that region and suggests that the artist(s) in charge of illustrating a copy of De Materia Medica in the ninth century associated pictures from a Greek manuscript and images from his/their iconic environment. If so, the Istanbul manuscript and the comparison above allow reconstruction of a stage in the transmission of Dioscorides’ text to the Arabic world that is not attested in extant manuscripts. Furthermore, it suggests that the introduction of decorative elements was not necessarily a later phenomenon, a sign that—according to Collins’s “pattern”—announced the decline of a text.

Fourth, the model that Collins proposes to reconstruct the evolution of herbals (her “pattern”), which seems to replicate T. S. Kuhn’s paradigm of scientific revolutions, is not only based on insufficient documentary evidence and an inadequate method but is also unfounded: extant manuscripts reflect only a small part of ancient scientific activity and do not allow us to hypothesize a direct link from the manuscripts that survive to actual facts. Furthermore, changes in ancient and medieval botanical texts and illustrations seem to have resulted from slow, long-term processes of adaptation of knowledge that occurred, for example, after the introduction of non-native plants and drugs. Yet according to Collins there was a kind of imperative for new knowledge to be created as soon as the current version became obsolete, owing to a sort of scientific horror vacui.

Such an interpretive model of ancient and medieval science seems to be a projection of twentieth-century concepts of science construction and scientific communication.

Finally—and this is not the least of its problems—Medieval Herbals is full of approximations, inaccuracies, and mistakes of all kinds (from small typos and incorrect transliterations of Greek terms to misspellings of authors’ names and incomplete bibliographic references) that will be particularly difficult to eradicate because of the author’s claims to exactness, her constant authoritative tone, her frequent dismissals of earlier bibliographies because of their many mistakes, and her repeated affirmation that she personally examined the items under discussion.

…To sum up: Medieval Herbals does not fulfill its promises and falls short of the expectations it ambitiously raises. Moreover, the combination of lacunas and mistakes in the information and the inappropriateness of Collins’s method generates misleading conclusions, particularly on the mechanisms of the creation and diffusion of herbals. Nonexpert readers will probably be favorably impressed by the book because of its lavish illustrations, the quality of its presentation, and the renown of the series in which it appears. They will not be aware, however, that Medieval Herbals reinforces the defects of the earlier literature that it criticizes, introduces many mistakes, and in the end provokes more confusion and presents more misleading information than it corrects.

Alain Touwaide, [review] Isis, Vol. 95, No. 4 (December 2004), pp. 695-697.

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