Wilcox's Nuremberg Chronicles and Other Reliquaries

Wilcox's Nuremberg Chronicles and Other Reliquaries November 28, 2020 · 16 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

In 1935, the National Socialist German Workers' Party – better known as the Nazi Party – forbid Jewish physicians from practicing medicine. Could this be the reason why Dr. Hermann Ernst Hinderks moved to South Africa from Germany that same year? Many believe so, especially after finding Dr. Hinderks' name in Adolf Hitler's infamous "Black Book".

Although the events of 1935 are not exactly where our story of Wilcox's Nuremberg Chronicles begins, it is as good a place as any to start.

Why Dr. Hinderks had a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicles isn't known. The last owner of it, Robert Barclay, died over a century prior. It also isn't known when, or why Dr. Hinderks sold the book to Kenneth Gardner either. The transaction occurred after 1936 but before 1940. One idea was that Dr. Hinderks needed the money, and the book was his sole possession after fleeing Germany. But if that was the case, why did it take him over a year to sell it? We may never know. Nevertheless, Dr. Hinderks sold the book to Kenneth Gardner for $600 – or about $7,500 in today's money.

In 1953, Gardner – and the ancient text – left South Africa and settled in Vancouver, Canada. For six years the book was with Gardner until he decided to sell it. Religious university founder Reverend Henry Carr and architect Peter Thornton then urged Gardner to sell the book to a small religious college in Wilcox, Saskatchewan called Notre Dame.

Gardner was reluctant at first, but then agreed to sell it to the college for the samw price he paid for from Dr. Hinderks – $600, or now about $5,300.  

This is where Father James Athol Murray comes into the story. Father Murry helped make Wilcox into what it is today – with a thriving college, a world-renowned sports team, an incredible talented teaching staff, and a secret, yet mesmerizing, rare book collection. There was only one problem: Father Murray didn't have $600. No matter how rare the book might be, he could not take money from the school and he didn't have a penny to his name. He told Gardner to give him a month and he would find some way to come up with the money. Gardner agreed.

Father Murray had to find some way to come up with the money, so he cut down on smoking and began asking people in the community for small donations – one dollar, two dollars, nothing too much to inconvenience them. After three weeks, he miraculously came up with just enough money for the book.

But then tragedy struck: a student at Notre Dame got ill – so ill, so fast, that he had to be sent home immediately. Father Murray, without hesitation, donated his money to the cause. His students were his main priority; they were his family, and a book was just a book.

But word got out what had happened, and it inspired the students of Notre Dame. Without telling Father Murray, they raised the money themselves and contacted Reverend Henry Carr – a liaison between Father Murray and Gardner – and purchased the book in secret. They then surprised him with the book a few months later and, much like Jesus at Lazarus' grave, he wept.

Letter of Ownership of the Nuremberg Chronicles

But what are the Nuremberg Chronicles? Why is it so sought after that men across the world put their own lives on the line to preserve it? This ancient Latin text records the story of Creation, starting with the very hand of God drawing the circles of the Heavens and Earth. The book was written in 1492 and only a couple hundred copies still exist today. It was one of the first-ever books printed, and it records humanity's history through the centuries. The book even records God's Final Judgment of humanity, as the author believed that would soon occur.

It would make sense then why Dr. Hinderks and the book fled Europe during the Nazi regime. This book recorded a history that the Nazis wanted to be removed. It opposed what they said and was a threat to their message.

Not only is the book beautiful in its existence, but the artwork inside is magnificent. This incunable – which is a book printed prior to the 16th Century – is filled with hand-made, woodcut carvings, dipped in ink and pressed onto the pages. These carvings are intricate in detail, showing the wrinkles on God's knuckles, the wounds in Adam's side as Eve emerges from his rib, the towering brick castles of Europe, and the troubled eyes of Kings and Queens of bygone eras. Amazingly, the woodcuts were even done backward so that they would appear the correct way on the pages.

The Nuremberg Chronicles

But while the Nuremberg Chronicles are rare and ancient, it is not the rarest or most ancient text in Father Murray's collection. Along with it are two German copies of Martin Luther's bibles – written in 1535. There is also the First Edition of St. Augustus, written in 1498 on sheepskin. There are the 1627 works of Charles I, recording his life and martyrdom. There is the Chronicles 1515, which were pressed on the original Gutenberg printing press. There is also the decree of James I from 1603, and the 1481 copy of the Epistles of St. Paul, written by Sir Thomas Aquinas.

Old Latin book Calfskin book James the First decree on calfskin Saint Martain of Tours

Among those are thousands of other books, spanning centuries, written on paper, sheepskin, calfskin, and goatskin. Some are pressed with leather covers, some are pressed with wood, some are scrolls, some are 21st Century books and some are just papers.

Bibles of Martin Luther Loose sheepskin manuscript with faded text on it Another sheepskin manuscript with faded text

But the oldest book in the collection are three hand-written manuscripts made by monks during the 1200s. These were written in monasteries and still have chains attached to them from where they were anchored to stone walls. These priceless books were the decrees of Pope Gregory X. The goatskin was expensive, so every word was counted and measured so the exact amount of skin could be ordered. Not a bit was wasted. It was also delicate – so delicate that the monks would stand, arched over the books, writing in them vertically so their hands wouldn't touch the papers. Even today, if somebody was to flip through the pages, they are to wear gloves. This is so that the corrosive oils of our skin don't destroy the eight-hundred-year-old goatskin.

Decrees of Pope Gregory X Close up of Decrees of Pope Gregory X

This book, and the bibles and the scrolls and the decrees and the editions and even the Nuremberg Chronicles are all in a temperature-controlled room, locked away behind two doors. But outside those doors are the Wilcox Archives. These archives are expansive, with displays ranging from historical photographs of the early days of Notre Dame to pictures of Father Murry visiting both Pope Paul VI and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, only a week before the king's assassination. The archives also have a scanned copy of the signed seventy-two resolutions between Canada West, Canada East, the Colony of Nova Scotia, and the Colony of New Brunswick – the very agreement that began the formation of Canada.

Wilcox Archives Pictures of Father Murray Father Murray with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia Cover of the seventy-two resolutions

The archives also hold a statue of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. In other places, a statue like this would be controversial, but according to the Wilcox Archives the statue "isn't going anywhere". This makes sense though since John A. was the granduncle of Father Murray.

The back of the archives is the Rex Beach Repository. This conference room was created in honour of Father Murray's close friend and famous novelist, Rex Beach. It contains pictures of Beach and Jack London in Nevada in 1910, as well as bronze quotes of Beach during his time in the Klondike. The walls are filled with paintings either gifted from Beach or items that once belonged to him.

Rex Beach Repository Rex Beach Repository

The far wall is the most interesting though, as it is made of fieldstone with a variety of artifacts embedded into it. These include arrowheads, tomahawk blades, a petrified bison heart, a Colt revolver, a World War I shell, a stone South African knife from the Boar War, a nuclear roasted rock from Hiroshima, and jail shackles dating back to the Northwest Resistance.

There are many other artifacts inside the archives I didn't get to see, including a signed photograph from Adolf Hitler to Dr. Otto Strasser in his own handwriting. The letter spoke of the "sincere gratitude" Hitler had for the man. Six years after writing the letter, Hitler ordered Strasser's execution. The letter isn't on display anymore, but it is preserved for those who wish to see it, lest we ever forget leadership without conscience.

While the archives are vast, the greatest piece is outside the building, across the parking lot, next to St. Augustine Catholic Church and the final resting place of Father Murray. Beside the church is a four-story tower of brick and glass, called The Tower of God.

Door to The Tower of God Stained Glass inside The Tower of God Inside the Tower of God

Here is why Father Murray was meeting with Pope Paul VI and the late King of Saudi Arabia. Father Murray wanted to build towers for each of the world's greatest Abrahamic religions. He wanted to have a space in Rome, in Jerusalem, in Saudi Arabia, and in Wilcox where all religions can be as one – as God wanted them to be. The Tower of God contains artifacts from all three religions, from stained glass windows, tablets of the 10 Commandments written in Hebrew, a bronze plaque of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and The Great Prophets, an Islamic prayer rug, and a golden goblet.

Plaque about Mohammad and Allah Bronze Plaques of the Jewish Great Prophets The Twelve Tribes of Isreal

On the fourth wall are quotes embossed in plaques from some of the world's great thinkers; JFK, Gandhi, Socrates, Mohammad, Charles Lindbergh, and countless more. This punctuates how God's message is universal and comes from many mouths, regardless of skin colour, creed, political status, or the moment in time in which it was spoken.

In the middle of the room is a replica of the Athenian statue of a world without a caring God. It shows three figures, twisted and disfigured, fighting away giant snakes, their faces filled with terror and abandonment. This statue is of Laocoön and his two sons, a statue so important in the art-world that Michelangelo even called it "A Miracle of Art".

This "miracle" sits on a stone altar with its own plaque, labelled "The Primeval Alter to the Unknown God". It is to reflect the idea that God is omnipotent and all-encompassing, that He goes by many names, many shapes, and many voices, and that His message is universal and never forgotten. This unknown God is the same as the known God, and this universal truth sits within the heart of a tower bearing His very name.

Statue of Laocoön and his two sons Altar to the Unknown God

Father Murray believed all this and convinced the leaders of the religious world to build replica towers too. I'm not sure if any of them came to pass beyond the one in Wilcox, but to even have religious leaders agree on something like this was in itself a miracle.

Wilcox, Notre Dame, and their archives are a treasure trove of knowledge that few know about. From ancient monk texts to the written testimony of Creation, to the autographs of novelists, popes, Nazis, and kings, to the Tower of God, there is much to learn in this small town – and much more than I could have taken in during my short visit.

Have you ever been to the Wilcox Archives? How about The Tower of God? I would love to hear all about it, and any of your thoughts, in the comments below.

Thank you to the President of Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, Rob Palmarin (who was also my high-school principal) and the former archivist Gerry Scheibel for arranging my trip to the archives. If you're interested in learning more about the Nuremberg Chronicles, you can see more on a website Dr. Sharon Wright of St Thomas More College made. You can also read more about the stained glass windows in the Tower of God on GlassInCanada.org.

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Wilcox's Nuremburg Chronicles and Other Reliquaries Wilcox's Nuremburg Chronicles and Other Reliquaries

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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Although the events of 1935 are not exactly where our story of Wilcox's Nuremberg Chronicles begins, it is as good a place as any to start.

Why Dr. Hinderks had a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicles isn't known. The last owner of it, Robert Barclay, died over a century prior. It also isn't known when, or why Dr. Hinderks sold the book to Kenneth Gardner either. The transaction occurred after 1936 but before 1940. One idea was that Dr. Hinderks needed the money, and the book was his sole possession after fleeing Germany. But if that was the case, why did it take him over a year to sell it? We may never know. Nevertheless, Dr. Hinderks sold the book to Kenneth Gardner for $600 – or about $7,500 in today's money.

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