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A silent servant of natural knowledge: the herbarium of 'The Flying Monk' Brother Cyprian

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The herbarium of Brother Cyprian (1724–1775) is a unique collection of 283 medicinal herbs and other plants that the Camaldolese lay brother, nicknamed ‘The Flying Monk’ for his legendary Daedalic exploits, collected in the surroundings of the so-called Red Monastery (Červený Kláštor, Slovakia) in the Pieniny and Tatra Mountains at the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom and Poland. Brother Cyprian was in charge of the infirmary of the monastery, as well as providing medical services to the inhabitants of the nearby settlements, and his herbarium contains valuable records about his medical experience and observations. Although Cyprian’s work has attracted the attention of historians of medicine and botanists, who pointed to his receptivity to current trends in natural knowledge, no written evidence has been found that would inform about his ambitions to use his knowledge in long-distance networks of intellectual or material exchange. For this reason, my research focuses on two alternative ways to learn about his strategies and attitudes to acquire and use his natural and medical expertise. On the one hand, I explore his personal interactions with other intellectuals in the region as potential mediators, who shaped his interests and ways of observations. On the other hand, relying on the inventories of the monastery, I will reconstruct Cyprian’s working environment and investigate the making and the use of the herbarium in the context of the material culture in which it was created.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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