Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, monastic name of Isabella Tomasi, was born in Italy in 1645 and on the 11th August 1676 she was 31. On that day she was found in her cell, sitting on the floor with her face covered in ink. On her hand she had a letter that, according to her, had been delivered by the devil himself. The letter seemed to be written in an incomprehensible language but, amongst the odd symbols, a word was standing out:
Ohime (Italian for”Alas”)
supposedly representing the reluctant signature of the nun, on the devil’s orders. The sister said that letter was a code that would have remained secret for the following 340 years.
Below: the monastery of Palma di Montechiaro today. Picture by Archenzo shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
The historical reports indicate that sister Isabella said that the letter had been written in order to take her away from God and move her closer to the devil. Apart from the 11 incomprehensible lines, the nun declared that the Devil had conveyed two other messages that however she took to the grave because
“I cannot in any way, and it is not even necessary that I mention, what soon will be possible to hear and visible to see”.
What became known as the “Devil’s Letter” fascinated Italian scientists and researchers for centuries. The writer Giuseppe Tomasi, remote descendant of Isabella Tomasi, decided to include the mysterious character inside his famous novel “Il Gattopardo”, where she appeared with the name of Blessed Corbera.
Even before the letter of the Devil, the documents state that in 1672, the woman had a vision of the Lady of Sorrow, whom apparently had said to her: “The cross will be your eternal seclusion. The cross is awaiting you, now it is just a matter of slowly getting on it, so that you can be crucified thoroughly”.
A solved code
The researchers of the Ludum Science Center, Museum of Science of Catania, were recently able to decode the mysterious language thanks to a series of computer tools, used by the Intelligence Services of all world. The museum director Daniele Abate explained that the algorithm analysed different types of existing alphabets that the nun might have known at the time (Greek, Cyrillic, Latin, Runic, Yazidis ), trying to combine letters and symbols looking for a match.
The result was surprising
Abate explains to LiveScience that “We have analysed how syllables and graphisms repeat themselves in the letter, in order to find the vowels. This way we have found an algorithm of refined decryption”. Despite the researchers thought to decode only splitted words, they managed to obtain a more complete message.
Amongst the decoded messages, not completely understandable, we have:
“Maybe, almost certain Styx (river between Earth and the Underworld)”. (original “Forse ormai certo Stige”)
“Since God Christ Zoroaster follow the ancient roads and tailors sewed by the men, alas”. (original: “Poiché Dio Cristo Zoroastro seguono le vie antiche e sarte cucite dagli uomini, Ohimé“)
“A God that I feel frees the mortals”. (original “Un Dio che sento liberare i mortali“)
Below: the letter displays the different letters. On the top left there is the date whereas in the centre, at the 7th line, it is possible to pinpoint “Ohime”.
The messages tell us most likely how Isabella Tomasi suffered from either schizophrenia or some other mental condition which had convinced her to fight against the Devil.
The abbess Maria Serafica, explained in a memorandum the battle of the nun against the evil spirits and about her beatification for having resisted Satan.
“The woman certainly made up a precise alphabet” explains Abate “by carefully mixing up all the symbols she knew. Each character is thought and structured, with signs that repeat themselves and distinguishable writing”. An unintentional initiative, maybe subconcious, that led Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione to create a rebus-like letter that only today we have managed to (partially) disclose.
Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione died in her 45’s in 1690. The legend says that her last words were:
Saint, Saint, Saint