Obviously a book set 600 (and 1200, and 1800) years in a post-apocalyptic future isn't necessarily going to have much in the way of noticeable landmarks that are definitively similar to ours. Still, there are enough references in the book to familiar names ("Utah country", "Minnesota Country", "Old El Paso", "The Empire of Denver", and more) that it seems reasonable to believe that it might at least be possible to localize the abbey. It's in the southwest, apparently near a missile testing range, by what seems to have been a major highway, near an oasis - is this enough information to establish a fairly exact location for the abbey?

  • 1
    I seem to recall a map included in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
    – SáT
    Dec 23, 2016 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


I don't know exactly how much research went into developing the location of the abbey, but it's perfectly possible to get at least an approximate location. As mentioned, there are several clues to where the abbey was. It's apparent that it was in the southwestern desert of the US (Fiat Homo Chapter Six tells us that "[members of the order] smuggled books to the southwest desert and buried them there in kegs"), near a water hole which was "about three days' journey" from where the books were buried. There was an "old road that passed the abbey" (Fiat Homo, Chapter One) which may have been "a portion of the shortest route from the Great Salt Lake to Old El Paso". The road seems to have run north and south, and "south of the abbey it intersected a similar strip of broken stone that stretched east- and westward."

It becomes apparent that the fallout shelter which Brother Francis Gerard of Utah discovers is the very one where

Emily Leibowitz has died

and where she was sent by her husband, on an errand to a co-worker in the vicinity of his work site (the note from Leibowitz tells the co-worker to "put [a toolbox carried by his wife] in my locker or something"). Further, we can see that Isaac Edward Leibowitz was apparently a civilian who worked for the Army developing weapons systems in the 1960s. Thus, we must look for areas in the southwest, near Army weapons installations, with a major north-south road intersecting a major east-west road somewhere south of an "oasis" or "water hole". The obvious place to look is in the vicinity of the US Army's White Sands Missile Range.

Las Cruces, New Mexico, is about 10 miles south and west of the nearest border of White Sands. It is the intersection between Interstate 10 (which covers part of US Route 70), running east and west through Las Cruces and White Sands, and Interstate 25, which overlies US Route 85, running more or less north and south through Las Cruces. South and east of Las Cruces, I-25 runs into El Paso, Texas, about 40 miles away. About 50 or 60 miles northwest of Las Cruces, I-25 bends around eastward to head up through Albequerque, New Mexico—however, if the highway continued northward in the same direction it is traveling as it passes near Las Cruces, it would run directly into the Great Salt Lake about five or six hundred miles away. I conclude that the road passing north-south by the abbey is the modern US Interstate 25, and that the abbey is not too far north of there, near a water feature of some sort. There must be mountains, or at any rate rough terrain, not too far to the west (one of the characters looks from the abbey "toward the anvil-shaped mountain, silhouetted against the gray patch of sky in the west") (Fiat Lux, Chapter Thirteen).

Given all this information, the most reasonable place I can find for the abbey is in the vicinity of what's now Oasis, New Mexico, about 50 miles north-northwest of Las Cruces. Brother Francis discovered the fallout shelter near his hermitage some miles north of the abbey; possibly this was considered a safe location, sufficiently distant from the missile range to make the risk of direct nuclear strike low.

  • To follow on to Matt's post: There is a town named Elephant Butte about 20 miles north of Oasis. That's a bit far for Paolo to go in a day, but not out of the question. And one presumes there are many buttes in the area. So I'm with Matt. Mar 17, 2017 at 8:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.