A section of the letter supposedly written by a nun possessed by Satan.

17th Century Letter Allegedly Written by Possessed Nun Decoded For the First Time

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After 341 years, a mysterious jumble of archaic script allegedly written by an Italian nun possessed by Satan has finally been unraveled. Scientists have accomplished the feat through the use of a code breaker they discovered on the Deep Web.

According to The Times , the letter was written by Italian sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione in the 17th century. She was born Isabella Tomasi and became a nun when she was 15 years old. Live Science reports that the nun was 31 when the letter was written.

A representation of sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione.

A representation of sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione. ( Quotidiano)

Legends claim that, after a long battle between the nun and Satan, the letter was found in the nun’s hand on August 11, 1676 when she awoke from a fainting spell in her room with her face smeared with ink. This event took place at the cloistered Nunnery of  Palma di Montechiaro,  in the province of Agrigento, in Sicily. Apparently, the nun and her sisters could not decode the text, but over time they decided that it must be the words of Satan trying to convince the young nun to turn away from her faith.

Live Science says a written account about the occurrence by Abbess Maria Serafica attests to Sister Maria’s courage, claiming Satan would have tried to force the nun to sign the letter. Yet Sister Maria apparently opposed the demand by writing "Ohimé" (oh me) instead.

Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily - the Benedictine enclosed nunnery where the letter was said to have been written.

Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily - the Benedictine enclosed nunnery where the letter was said to have been written. (Archenzo/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The content of the rest of the text has been a mystery for centuries. According to La Stampa , a monastery even offered a month-long vacation in Agrigento for the person who managed to decode it in the 1960s. No one was able to do so, until now.

A team from the Ludum science center in Sicily used a code-cracking algorithm found on the Deep Web. The same software is allegedly used by unspecified intelligence services. Daniele Abate, director of the Ludum science center, said:

“We heard about the software, which we believe is used by intelligence services for codebreaking. We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to descramble some of the letter and show that it really is devilish.”

A letter supposedly written by a nun possessed by Satan has been deciphered.

A letter supposedly written by a nun possessed by Satan has been deciphered. ( Daniele Abate )

By using that software, Live Science reports the scientists have managed to decipher all 14 lines of the letter. The software used an algorithm to detect common characters and compared them to the most similar characters in various alphabets.

“The letter appeared as if it was written in shorthand. We speculated that Sister Maria created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known,” Abate said . “We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms [or thoughts depicted as symbols] repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm.”

The letter is inconsistent and rambles somewhat incoherently on the connections between God, humans, and Satan. It claims that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are “deadweights”, and goes on to say that humans invented God and Zoroaster. It also asserts that “God thinks he can free mortals” adding “this system works for no one”. Finally, it seems to refer to the River Styx, which separates the Earth and the Underworld in Greek and Roman mythology, in a curious phrase “Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

Crossing the Styx, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1861

Crossing the Styx, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1861. ( Public Domain )

Some people see the letter’s content as “ chilling”, or as possible proof that Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione had been possessed by the devil, while others say it was the nun’s elaborate creation. For his part, Daniele Abate believes the nun had bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and may have experienced hallucinations and delusions. “The image of the devil is often present in these disorders. We learned from historical records that every night she screamed and fought against the devil,” Abate said .

He also told the media :

[T]his is a precise alphabet, invented by the nun with great care by mixing symbols she knew. Each symbol is well thought out and structured, there are signs that are repeated, perhaps an intentional and perhaps unconscious initiative. The stress of life in the monastery was very strong.” 


The article reveals next to nothing of what is in the letter.

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