Who was Friar Edgar?

Edgar of Taunton (1276 - 1322) was a Franciscan monk, scholar, and collector of wonders, enrolled in the Bridgwater Friary in southwestern England. In the early 14th century, he published De omnibus crescentibus (Concerning all growing things), a mixture of Scholastic teachings about the nature of the soul, observations on human physiognomy, and a catalogue of local plants, "and their names, uses, and the various emotions they may incite in he who beholds them, or consumes them." The book was accused of espousing a Waldensian heresy (that holy water was no more effective than rainwater, which Edgar "established" with a rudimentary series of experiments using flowers and fish), and was officially censured by the Church and Franciscan order. All copies of the book were burned. Though no serious punishment befell Edgar, he seems to have been ostracized from his community as a result. Monastery records of the time contain a few comical sketches, no doubt drawn by the novice in charge of records-keeping, depicting Edgar bathing in baptismal fonts, and planting flowers in the Abbot's robe.

Presumably frustrated by this turn of events, in 1312 Edgar accepted an itinerant administrative post in the order that took him away from Bridgwater to other friaries, both in England and on the Continent. It was at this point that he began collecting specimens for the Globe that was to become his life's work. His already keen biologist's eye turned to the flora, fauna, and folk arts of the townships he visited. The fancy born of rumor, and the Barnumesque advertisement of the Globe by Edgar himself, make finding reliable information about the Globe and its contents a true problem for scholars. The literature is even unclear on whether the Globe was an actual sphere or a merely cylindrical traveling case. Among the contents which are at least somewhat credibly reported, the more interesting are a sculpture of a deer made of human teeth, the skeleton of a "Balberine imp" (probably some sort of monkey), a tin sculpture of a girl who moved by clockwork, herbs and potions reportedly able to ease joint pain and induce miscarriage, and an armadillo.

Inevitably, the mendicant monk found himself again in conflict with Church authorities. Though the official statement was that the collection of these Wonders broke the Franciscan oath of poverty, Edgar's surprising taste for fame was probably the biggest issue. By 1319, he had formed the habit of taking days off travel, and even slipping out of monastic responsibilities, to exhibit the Globe and its Wonders in town markets. In the fall of 1320, Edgar was excommunicated. He begged to support himself, and history is silent on what became of the Wonders. His curiosity never left him, and even got the better of him in the end -- in 1322, he died from eating a poisonous root he believed to be medicinal.

The story has a bittersweet coda: the next year, Pope John XXII released his Quum inter nonnullos bull, which attacked the Franciscan vow of poverty and led to a reform of the Franciscan order. Scholars believe that the tragic history of Edgar of Taunton may have influenced Pope John's decision. Could it even have been possible that the Pope saw the globe?

A few woodcuts and handbills, and possibly a papal bull, were all that remained of Edgar of Taunton... until today. While doing research for their book, The Medieval Drain as Image and Metaphor, Dr. Paul VanKoughnett and Dr. Peter Davis found the Globe of Wonders intact and with all its contents, hidden in a Navarre catacomb. Far from mere biological or artistic oddities, the items inside have proven to, as one of Edgar's pamphlets put it, "amaze and bewilder ... more than the many obeliscolychnies of the celestial plane." In consultation with the Navarre Cultural Heritage Committee, Dr. VanKoughnett and Dr. Davis have decided to release the items, one at a time, as they feel the world is ready.