In the hands of the future translator and publisher of “Notes of Father Adson from Melk” fall in Prague in 1968. The title page of the French book of the middle of the last century means that it is a translation from the Latin text of the XVII century, allegedly reproducing, in turn, the manuscript, created by a German monk at the end of the XIV century. The searches made with respect to the author of the French translation, the Latin original, and also the personality of Adson himself, do not bring results. Subsequently, a strange book disappears from the view of the publisher, adding one more link to the unreliable chain of retellings of this medieval story.
In the declining years, the Benedictine monk Adson recalls events, an eyewitness and participant of which he happened to be in 1327. Europe is shaken by political and church discords. Emperor Louis opposes the Pope John XXII. At the same time, the pope is fighting the monastic order of the Franciscans, in which
the reformist movement of non-possessors-spiritualists, who had been subjected to cruel persecution before the papal curia, prevailed. Franciscans unite with the emperor and become a significant force in the political game.
In this confusion, Adson, then a young novice, accompanies the English Franciscan Wilhelm Baskerville in his travels through the cities and largest monasteries of Italy. Wilhelm is a thinker and theologian, a naturalist, famous for his powerful analytical mind, William Okkam’s friend and student of Roger Bacon – fulfills the Emperor’s task to prepare and hold a preliminary meeting between the imperial delegation of the Franciscans and the representatives of the Curia. In the abbey, where it is to take place, Wilhelm and Adson arrive a few days before the embassies arrive. The meeting should take the form of a debate about the poverty of Christ and the church; its purpose – to find out the positions of the parties and the possibility of a future visit of the General Franciscans to the papal throne in Avignon.
Not yet entering the monastic limits, Wilhelm surprises
the monks who have come out in search of the escaped horse, with precise deductive conclusions. And the abbot of the abbey immediately appeals to him with a request to conduct an investigation into what happened in the abode of a strange death. The body of the young monk Adelma was found at the bottom of the cliff, perhaps he was thrown out of the tower overhanging the abyss of a high edifice called here the Temple. The abbot hints that he knows the true circumstances of Adel’m’s death, but he is bound by a secret confession, and therefore the truth must come from other, unprinted lips.
Wilhelm receives permission to interview all monks without exception and to examine any premises of the monastery – except for the famous monastery library. The largest in the Christian world, comparable to the semi-legendary libraries of the infidels, it is located on the upper floor of the Khramna; only the librarian and his assistant have access to it, only they know the plan of the storehouse, built as a labyrinth, and the system of placing books on the shelves. Other monks: copyists, rubricators, translators, flocking here from all over Europe – work with books in the room for rewriting – the scripts. The librarian alone decides when and how to provide the book to the one who claimed it, and whether to provide it at all, because there are many pagan and heretical works. In the scripts, Wilhelm and Adson get acquainted with the librarian Malachi, his assistant Berengar, an interpreter from the Greek, an adherent of Aristotle Venantius and a young rhetorician Benzi. The late Adelme, a skilful draftsman, decorated the fields of manuscripts with fantastic miniatures. It is worthwhile for the monks to laugh, examining them – in the scripts there appears the blind brother Jorge with reproach that laughter and idle talk are indecent in the monastery. This man, glorious for years, righteousness and learning, lives with a sense of the onset of the last times and in anticipation of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist. Examining the abbey, Wilhelm comes to the conclusion that Adelm was most likely not killed, but committed suicide by rushing down from the monastery wall, and under the Khramin the body was later transferred by a landslide. It is worthwhile for the monks to laugh, examining them – in the scripts there appears the blind brother Jorge with reproach that laughter and idle talk are indecent in the monastery. This man, glorious for years, righteousness and learning, lives with a sense of the onset of the last times and in anticipation of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist. Examining the abbey, Wilhelm comes to the conclusion that Adelm was most likely not killed, but committed suicide by rushing down from the monastery wall, and under the Khramin the body was later transferred by a landslide. It is worthwhile for the monks to laugh, examining them – in the scripts there appears the blind brother Jorge with reproach that laughter and idle talk are indecent in the monastery. This man, glorious for years, righteousness and learning, lives with a sense of the onset of the last times and in anticipation of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist. Examining the abbey, Wilhelm comes to the conclusion that Adelm was most likely not killed, but committed suicide by rushing down from the monastery wall, and under the Khramin the body was later transferred by a landslide.
But that same night, Venantia’s corpse was found in a barrel with fresh blood of stabbed pigs. Wilhelm, studying the tracks, determines that the monk was killed somewhere in another place, most likely in the Khramin, and thrown into the barrel already dead. But on the body meanwhile, there are no wounds, no injuries or traces of struggle.
Noticing that Bentius is more excited than others, and Berengar is frankly frightened, Wilhelm immediately interrogates both. Berengar admits that he saw Adelma on the night of his death: the draftsman’s face was like the face of a dead man, and Adelme said that he was cursed and condemned to eternal torment, which he described to the shocked interlocutor very convincingly. Bentius says that two days before Adelma died in the scriptory there was a dispute about the admissibility of the funny in the depiction of the divine and that the holy truths are better represented in gross bodies than in the noble ones. In the heat of the dispute Berengar inadvertently let slip, though very vaguely, about something carefully hidden in the library. The mention of this was due to the word “Africa”, and in the catalog among the notations that only the librarian can understand, Bentius saw the visa as “the limit of Africa,” but when, having become interested, asked the book with this visa, Malachi stated that all these books were lost. Bentius tells us about what he witnessed, following Berengar after the dispute. Wilhelm receives confirmation of the version of Adelm’s suicide: apparently, in exchange for a certain service that could be related to Berengar’s possibilities as an assistant to the librarian, the latter inclined the draftsman to Sodom sin, the weight of which Adelm, however, could not bear and hastened to confess to the blind Jorge, but instead forgiveness received a terrible promise of imminent and terrible punishment. Consciousness of local monks is too excited, on the one hand, by a painful desire for book knowledge, on the other – a terrifying memory of the devil and hell, and this often makes them see literally with their own eyes something that they read or hear.
Wilhelm tries to examine the manuscripts and books on Venation’s table in the scripts. But first Jorge, then Bentius, under various pretexts, distract him. Wilhelm asks Malachy to put someone at the table on guard, and at night, together with Adson, returns here through the discovered underground passage, which the librarian uses after locking in the evening the inside of the door of the Khramyna. Among the papers of Venation, they find a parchment with incomprehensible extracts and signs of a secret record, but there is no book on the table that Wilhelm saw here in the afternoon. Someone with a careless sound gives out his presence in the script. Wilhelm rushes into the chase and suddenly a light falls into the light of a lantern dropped by a fugitive book, but an unknown man has time to grab it before Wilhelm and hide.
At night, the library is stronger than the locks and prohibitions guarded by fear. Many monks believe that in the darkness awful creatures and souls of dead librarians roam among books. Wilhelm is skeptical of such superstitions and does not miss the opportunity to explore the repository, where Adson is experiencing the effect of generating illusions of curved mirrors and a lamp impregnated with a vision-causing composition. The labyrinth turns out to be more complicated than William thought, and only thanks to the occasion they manage to find a way out. From the alarmed abbot they learn about the disappearance of Berengar.
A dead assistant to the librarian is found only in a day in a bathing place next to the monastery’s clinic. The travisher and healer Severin draws Wilhelm’s attention to the fact that on the fingers of Berengar there are traces of some substance. The travisher says that he saw the same in Venantia, when the corpse was washed from the blood. In addition, Berengar’s tongue turned black – apparently, the monk was poisoned before drowning in the water. Severin says that he once held a very poisonous potion for a long time, whose properties he did not even know himself, and it disappeared after strange circumstances. Malachi, the abbot and Berengar were aware of the poison. Meanwhile, embassies gather in the monastery. With the papal delegation comes the Inquisitor Bernard Guy. Wilhelm does not hide his dislike for him personally and his methods. Bernard declares,
Wilhelm and Adson again enter the library to make a plan for the labyrinth. It turns out that the storage rooms are marked with letters, from which, if they pass in a certain order, conditional words and names of countries are made. Discovered and the “limit of Africa” - a disguised and tightly closed room, but they do not find a way to enter it. Bernard Guy was detained and accused of sorcery, an assistant physician and village girl, whom he leads at night to appease the lust of his patron for the remains of monastic meals; On the eve of meeting with her and Adson, and could not resist the temptation. Now the fate of the girl is solved – as a witch she will go to the fire.
The fraternal discussion between the Franciscans and the pope’s representatives turns into a vulgar fight, during which Severin informs Wilhelm, who was left out of the slaughter, that he found a strange book in his laboratory. Their conversation hears the blind Jorge, but Bentius realizes that Severin discovered something that remained from Berengar. Renewed after a general reconciliation, the disruption is interrupted by the news that the herb was found dead in the hospital and the killer has already been seized.
The skull of the herbman was broken by a metal sky globe standing on the laboratory table. Wilhelm searches Severin’s fingers for traces of the same substance as Berengar and Venantia, but the hands of the herbman are covered with leather gloves used for work with dangerous drugs. At the scene of the crime the cellar Remigius is caught, who vainly tries to justify himself and declares that he came to the hospital when Severin was already dead. Bentius tells Wilhelm that he ran here one of the first, then watched the incoming ones and was sure: Malachi was already here, waiting in the niche behind the canopy, and afterwards he imperceptibly mixed with other monks. Wilhelm is convinced that no one could take the big book out of here secretly and, if the murderer is Malachi, she must still be in the laboratory. Wilhelm and Adson are taken for a quest, but they are overlooked, that sometimes ancient manuscripts were intertwined in several in one volume. As a result, the book remains unnoticed by them among others, owned by Severin, and gets to the more ingenious Benzia.
Bernard Guy holds a trial of the cellar and, having identified him as belonging to one of the heretical currents, forces him to take the blame for the killings in the abbey. The Inquisitor is not interested in who actually killed the monks, but he seeks to prove that the former heretic, now a murderer, shared the views of the Franciscan Spiritualists. This allows to frustrate the meeting, which, apparently, was the purpose with which he was sent here by the Pope.
At the request of Wilhelm to give the book, Bentius replies that, even without beginning to read, Malachi returned it, from which he received an offer to take the vacated position of assistant librarian. A few hours later, during the church service, Malachi dies in spasms, his tongue is black and his fingers are already familiar to Wilhelm traces.
The abbot declares to Wilhelm that the Franciscan did not live up to his expectations and the next morning he and Adson must leave the monastery. Wilhelm objected that he knew about the monks who are homosexuals, the calculation of accounts between which the rector considered the cause of the crimes for a long time. However, the real reason is not this: those who know about the existence of the “limit of Africa” in the library die. The Abbot can not conceal that Wilhelm’s words have brought him to a hunch, but the more firmly he insists on the departure of the Englishman; now he intends to take matters into his own hands and under his own responsibility.
But Wilhelm is not going to retreat, because he approached the decision closely. At the occasional prompting of Adson, it is possible to read in the secret record of Venence the key that opens the “limit of Africa”. On the sixth night of their stay in the abbey, they enter the secret library room. The blind Jorge is waiting for them inside.
Wilhelm intended to meet him here. The monologues themselves, the notes in the library catalog and some facts enabled him to find out that Jorge was once a librarian, and having felt that he was blind, taught first his first successor, then Malachi. Neither one nor the other could not work without his help and did not take a single step without asking him. The abbot also was dependent on him, because he got his place with his help. Forty years the blind man is the sovereign master of the monastery. And he believed that some of the manuscripts of the library should forever remain hidden from anyone’s eyes. When, through the fault of Berengar, one of them-perhaps the most important one-left these walls, Jorge made every effort to bring her back. This book – the second part of the “Poetics” of Aristotle, considered lost and dedicated to laughter and ridiculous in art, rhetoric, mastery of persuasion. In order to keep its existence secret, Jorge does not hesitate to go to crime, for he is convinced: if laughter is sanctified by the authority of Aristotle, the whole established medieval hierarchy of values will collapse, and culture, cultivated in remote monasteries, the culture of the elect and initiated, will be swept city, lower, square.
Jorge admits that he understood from the very beginning: sooner or later Wilhelm would discover the truth, and watched as the Englishman stepped closer to her step by step. He holds out to Wilhelm a book, for the desire to see which five people have already paid their lives, and offers to read. But the Franciscan says that he has unraveled this devil’s trick, and restores the course of events. Many years ago, after hearing someone in the scripture show interest in the “limit of Africa”, even the sighted Jorge kidnaps Severin from poison, but he does not start right away. But when Berengar, out of praise before Adelme, once behaved inconsistently, the already blinded old man climbs up and infiltrates the pages of the book with poison. Adelm, who agreed to a shameful sin to touch the secret, did not use the information obtained at such a price, but, confronted by Jorge with horror after confession, Venation tells everything. Venantius gets to the book, but to separate the soft parchment sheets, he has to wet his fingers on the tongue. He dies before he can leave the Khramin. Berengar finds the body and, frightened that the investigation will inevitably open up the former between him and Adelm, carries the corpse into a barrel of blood. However, he also became interested in the book, which he wrenched out of the scripts almost from the hands of Wilhelm. He brings her to the hospital, where he can read at night without fear of being seen by anyone. And when the poison begins to act, it rushes into the pool in the vain hope that the water will kill the flame that devours it from the inside. So the book gets to Severin. The sent Jorge Malachi kills the herbman, but he dies himself, wishing to learn that such a forbidden is contained in the object, because of which he was made a murderer. The last in this row is the abbot. After talking with Wilhelm, he demanded from Jorge explanations, more: he demanded to open the “limit of Africa” and put an end to the secrecy established in the library by the blind man and his predecessors. Now he suffocates in a stone bag of another underground passage to the library, where Jorge locked it, and then broke the door control mechanisms.
“So the dead died in vain,” says Wilhelm: now the book is found, and from the poison of Jorge he managed to protect himself. But in fulfillment of his plan, the elder is ready to accept death himself. Jorge breaks the book and eats poisoned pages, and when Wilhelm tries to stop him, he runs, unerringly orienting himself in the library from memory. The lamp in the hands of the pursuers still gives them some advantage. However, the overtaken blind man succeeds in taking away the lamp and throwing it aside. From the spilled oil begins a fire; Wilhelm and Adson rush for water, but return too late. The efforts of the whole fraternity raised by alarm do not lead to anything; the fire bursts outward and spills from the Khramin at first to the church, then to the other buildings.
In front of Adson, the richest monastery turns into ashes. The abbey burns for three days. By the end of the third day, the monks, having collected a little what they managed to save, leave the smoking ruins as a place, cursed by God.