Places: The Name of the Rose

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Il nome della rosa, 1980 (English translation, 1983)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1327

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedAbbey

Abbey. Name of the Rose, TheUnnamed Catholic abbey in northern Italy that provides the novel’s setting. The abbey is modeled on abbeys of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Besides the central area of action–the library–the abbey includes a church, an infirmary, a chapter house, a cloister with dormitory, pilgrim quarters, stables, a smithy, mills, oil presses, granaries, pigpens, gardens, and a cemetery.


Library. Forbidden and mysterious area of the abbey, located in the Aedificium, a large octagonal building housing the kitchen and refectory on its lower floor and the library and scriptorium on its upper floor. The scriptorium is a writing room in the abbey that leads to the main entrance to the library. As was usual in medieval times, the scriptorium is located near the kitchens so that the warmth from cooking fires would help keep the monks warm as they worked.

Most medieval monasteries had libraries because their monks were engaged in religious study and had to undertake daily reading. The abbey’s library serves to preserve manuscripts and provide income and power for the abbey when nobles pay for handwritten copies of manuscripts. Significantly, at this abbey, only the librarian and his assistant are allowed to enter the library itself; they decide who may or may not see certain manuscripts, and only they understand the complex structure of the library.

The labyrinthine design of the library connects it with the medieval mazes often built into cathedrals. The library is designed much like the maze on the floor of the Rheims Cathedral in France. In church symbolism, the maze would be the world, and walking the maze would be a way of reenacting the complex and distracting obstacles in life.

The ossarium, a bone vault leading to a secret entrance into the library, serves a practical purpose as a cemetery and a spiritual purpose as a “memento mori,” reminding all that they will die (and frightening them away from the secret entrance to the library).

Sections of the library are coded according to geographical areas on a medieval map. For example, the finis Africae houses forbidden books–those written by pagan authors that Jorge of Burgos (the former head librarian) considers most dangerous; therefore, it is protected by distorting mirrors and hallucinatory drugs. Aristotle’s Comedy is lodged in the finis Africae because it is the book that Jorge most feared would lead the world astray; this manuscript includes both Arabic and Syriac texts, which indicate that the Comedy was transmitted to the Christian world through infidels.


Church. The abbey’s sturdy church is, like many medieval churches, decorated with carvings intended to inspire religious feeling in the illiterate peasant. When the narrator Adso, a Benedictine novice assigned as William’s scribe, first beholds the church’s carvings, they prompt in him a vision instructing him to write down what he sees; this vision is an allusion to the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse, a theme that permeates the novel.

*Abbey of Melk

*Abbey of Melk. Benedictine abbey on the banks of the Danube in Austria. Adso is from this monastery, which, like the fictional abbey, had a library that was gutted by fire.


Baskerville. Fictional English town from which the amateur detective Brother William comes. This place is important for its symbolic name, which connects Brother William to Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who solved a famous murder mystery at the equally fictional Baskerville Hall.

*Abbey of Cluny

*Abbey of Cluny. Benedictine abbey in France that was one of the most important centers of Christianity in the fourteenth century. Bernard of Cluny wrote a poem from which the title of the novel is taken. The long poem is a denunciation of immoral clergymen and of the wickedness of the world. While the meaning of the “rose” of the novel’s title may be debated, to Bernard, the rose symbolized the brevity and sadness of mortal life.


*Avignon (a-vee-nyo[n]). City on the east bank of France’s Rhône River that was the temporary seat of the papacy during the period in which the novel is set. It is from Avignon that Pope John XXII promulgates papal bulls against the Franciscans.

Sources for Further StudyThe Atlantic. CCLII, July, 1983, p. 108.Bondanella, Peter. Umberto Eco and the Open Text: Semiotics, Fiction, Popular Culture. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Analyzes Eco’s fiction in the context of his literary theory, showing how his semiotics, or theory of signs, is applicable to the detective work in The Name of the Rose.Caesar, Michael. Umberto Eco: Philosophy, Semiotics, and the Work of Fiction. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1999. Comprehensive overview of Eco’s theories, with explanations of how they influence and appear in his fiction.Christian Science Monitor. December 2, 1983, p. B6.Coletti, Theresa. Naming the Rose: Eco, Medieval Signs, and Modern Theory. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988. Discusses Eco’s mingling of medieval and modern and what this means in light of the novel’s reception.Eco, Umberto. Postscript to “The Name of the Rose.” San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. In the spirit of Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition,” Eco discusses how the novel came to be written, not how it should be read.Haft, Adele J., Jane G. White, and Robert J. White. The Key to “The Name of the Rose.” Harrington Park, N.J.: Ampersand Associates, 1987. A useful source that identifies the novel’s literary references and provides translations of all non-English passages.Hudson Review. XXXVI, Autumn, 1983, p. 554.Inge, M. Thomas. Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. Ten essays with a foreword by Eco, a reader-response postscript, and a useful annotated checklist of English-language criticism.Inge, Thomas M., ed. Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1988. Anthologizes some of the best essays on the novel to the time of publication. Contains a checklist of articles on and reviews of the novel.Library Journal. CVIII, April 1, 1983, p. 757.Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 13, 1983, p. 6.The New York Review of Books. XXX, July 21, 1983, p. 11.The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, June 5, 1983, p. 1.Newsweek. CII, July 4, 1983, p. 72.Richter, David H. “Eco’s Echoes: Semiotic Theory and Detective Practice in The Name of the Rose.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 10, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 213-236. Densely detailed and finely argued discussion of the relation between Eco’s parodic novel and semiotic theory.Ross, Charlotte, and Rochelle Sibley, eds. Illuminating Eco: On the Boundaries of Interpretation. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004. A collection of essays chosen to show the variety of approaches British scholars have taken to Eco’s novels and theoretical works. Includes contributions by Eco.Time. CXXI, June 13, 1983, p. 72.The Wall Street Journal. June 20, 1983, p. 26.
Categories: Places