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Ritualistic Manuscripts: The Borgia Group


Borgia | Laud | Cospi | Fejérváry-Mayer


Codex Borgia

One tradition has that a former member of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide rescued the codex from a public burning of "superstitious and idolatrous" books in Mexico, in 1762, and forwarded it to Cardinal Stefano Borgia in Rome. Another version relates that the codex came to Italy with the expulsion of Jesuits from Spain in 1767. Thirdly, Alexander von Humboldt relates that Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who died en route to the coronation of Napoleon in 1804, made the Congregatio heir of his possessions, except for his private museum, which was to go to his brother, Giovanni Paolo Borgia. Codex Borgia was found to be among this collection, and after a decade of struggles the Congregatio acquired it.

Borgia pictures an example of a complex ritual cult and calendar of Mixteca. It is divided into one cultic part and three mantic arrangements of the Mixtec pantheon, each beginning with one 260-day cycle, the tonalpohualli. The cultic part of the codex cannot be found in any other manuscript, and it represents the cult associated with only one town, Cholula.

The codex is a 10.3 m long accordion-fold, consisting of 76 pages on 39 leaves with dimensions of 27 x 26.5 cm.

Another excellent facsimile reproduction at Special Collections is:

M. E. Landa Ábrego, Códice Borgia: El equilibrio dinámico del cosmos, 2 vols.
(Puebla: Comite de la Feria de Puebla, Trilenio Editores; Madrid: Ediciones Especiales de Bibliofilia, 1994).
Note: Commentary (vol. 2.) in Spanish.
F1219.56 B65 C63 1994 Spec. Coll.

Selection from Codex Borgia

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p. 25.Borgia, p. 25. p. 26.Borgia, p. 26. p. 27.Borgia, pp. 27-28.

p. 46.Borgia, p. 46. p. 55.Borgia, p. 55. p. 58.Borgia, p. 58.




Codex Laud

Codex Laud was presented to the Bodleian Library by Archbishop William Laud in 1636, beyond which we have no historical proof of its origins. The manuscript was mistaken for an Egyptian manuscript, and probably made its way to Laud via Central Europe. The codex is similar to Fejérváry-Mayer and Cospi in format, style and color. Like Borgia, this codex is concerned with the divine tonalpohualli, and is part of the so-called Borgia Group. The codex has been described as Cuicatec, Macatec, or Olmec in origin, and C. A. Burland (see companion volume) asserts that it is definitely not Mixtec.

Laud is a 4-meter-long screenfold consisting of 24 leaves measuring an average 16.5 x 15.7 cm. It has been very well preserved.


Selection from Codex Laud

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p. 1.Laud, p. 1. pp. 11r-10r.Laud, pp. 11r-10r.




Codex Cospi, wooden cover

Codex Cospi is another well-preserved member of the Borgia Group. The codex was given as a Christmas present to Ferdinando Cospi in 1665, which is the first historically known fact of its provenance.

Two different masters worked on the obverse and reverse sides of the codex. The obverse contains three sections of pictures linked with dates, used for divination. The reverse depicts eleven rituals.

The screenfold is 3.64 m long and contains twenty square leaves measuring 18.2 cm.


Selections from Codex Cospi

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p. 5.Cospi, p. 5. p. 10.Cospi, p. 10.




Codex Fejérváry-Mayer

This codex may have been among the first treasures sent by Hernando Cortés to emperor Charles V in 1519, although there is no proof. Nonetheless, Codex Fejérváry-Mayer ended up in the possession of the Fejérváry family in Hungary. It was there that the English Lord Kingsborough saw it and reproduced it in his Monumenta Americana. A later reproduction was made for the Duke of Loubat by Eduard Seler in Berlin, 1901.

The codex has been preserved in excellent condition by the Fejérvárys and later by the city of Liverpool, where it arrived in 1851. Currently, Fejérváry-Mayer is one of the best preserved of all Mesoamerican codices.

The style of the manuscript is very close to Cospi, whereas the rituals with numbers is like Laud.

With dimensions of 17.5 x 17.5 cm, the screenfold has 23 leaves.


Selections from Codex Fejérváry-Mayer

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p. 1r.Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 1r. p. 44v.Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 44v.

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