Legends say that as Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione awakened from a demonic spell, she found herself soaked in ink. Coincidentally, a bizarre letter had mysteriously come into her possession sometime in the night, and it was filled with unfamiliar symbols.
To add to the mystery of the story, the nun claims that Satan, the dark lord himself, had written the letter.
Refuge in Sicily
Sister Maria had taken spiritual refuge in the island of Sicily, a place that is deeply rooted in Christian traditions.
Historically, it’s the same place where Saint Paul preached nearly two millennia ago. However, where Christ is, Satan is said to roam as well. The eternal struggle between good and evil continues.
Isabella Tomasi was born in 1645 and joined a Benedictine convent somewhere in Palma di Montechiaro when she turned fifteen. She was soon baptized and renamed Maria Crocifissa della Concezione and learned the Benedictine ways of “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work).
Even with her strong faith, Sister Maria still did not seem to be at peace. In fact, she claims that she was being possessed by the devil.
Shrieking at the Altar
There was no question about whether or not the devil exists because Sister Maria was obviously in torment. She was even rumored to shriek and lose consciousness whenever she would approach the convent altar.
The Archaic Letter
Then one fine day in 1676, the devil took control of Sister Maria’s body and authored a letter. The note did not use the common language nor a recognizable alphabet.
The devil used mysterious glyphs that seem to resemble archaic letters and occult symbols.
Meanwhile in France…
It was not the first time that Satan invaded a religious convent. In 1632, 17 nuns from an Ursuline convent in France started to behave irrationally.
While that can be related to other factors, what you’re about to read next will definitely creep you out.
The Nuns Have Visions
It started with several nuns having visions and soon escalated to them acting bizarre in inexplicable ways. They cursed, shouted, and even barked, giving a sizeable crowd of onlookers the creeps.
This controversy of the nuns being possessed by Satan spread like wildfire in Loudon and reached the convent’s chaplain. It launched an investigation involving church authorities.
A guilty priest?
According to the investigation, one local holy man Father Urbain Grandier is to be blamed for the nuns’ possession. Apparently, Grandier was a notorious sorcerer who made an agreement with Lucifer. Using the powers the devil has given, he cast dark spells and conjured evil spirits to possess the Ursuline nuns.
Sometime in 1634, a trial was conducted and the cleric was found guilty.
According to sources, Grandier’s sentence proclaimed, “We have ordered… Urbain Grandier duly tried and convicted of the crimes of magic, maleficia and of causing demoniacal possession of several Ursuline nuns… He is to be taken to the public square… and fastened to a stake on a scaffold… and there be burned alive… and his ashes scattered to the wind.”
But, of course, this sentence along with its execution did nothing to stop or even slow down reports of possessions.
A Satanic Language
After a couple of years, Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione’s letter was so cyrptic that it was thought to be indecipherable. Her fellow nuns believed this and placed the item on public display.
Centuries have passed and numerous code-breakers tried to crack the Satanic language, but it wasn’t until 2017 that anyone made progress in doing so.
Breaking the Code
Finally, in that year, a team of computer scientists from LUDUM Science Center in Catania broke the code.
LUDUM Science Center is a privately institution founded in 1969, and they work with a variety of educational and research organizations.
Decryption and Contraband
The scientists only deciphered Sister Maria’s letter with the help of a powerful and highly controlled decryption program. The software is used by governments and isn’t widely available.
Rumor has it the team had to secure it from the dark web, a hidden part of the Internet that trades contraband, among other things.
Cracking Sister Maria’s Code
Initially, the scientists presumed that Sister Maria had perhaps created a code by mixing existing alphabets.
Her exposure to religious sculpture has made the nun a skilled linguist with knowledge of ancient and modern languages, which made the experts come up with this hypothesis.
“It really is devilish.”
“We heard about the software, which we believe is used by intelligence services for code-breaking,” said team leader, Daniele Abate, to British newspaper The Times in 2017. “We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to unscramble some of the letters and show that it really is devilish.”
Was the code a hoax?
After numerous tries, the team managed to crack 15 lines of the note. Most of it did not make any sense and it contained heretical statements that could have gotten Sister Maria into trouble.
Of course, this has revived two theories. One is the nun is a rebel and a hoaxer or two, she was crazy.
While the idea that Sister Maria was possessed has not been fully confirmed yet, we do know that the note’s author claimed that God is not real but merely an invention of man and that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are “dead weights.”
“God thinks he can free mortals,” says the note. “This system works for no one.” There was also a line that may be a reference to a mythological river and it says, “Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”
More Demonic Notes
Sister Maria’s note isn’t the only reported example of demonic writing. In The Devil in Britain and America (a book by John Ashton in 1896), claimed to contain a copy of “the only known specimen of the devil’s handwriting.” The sample was sourced from a 16th-century tome in Latin by Teseo Ambrohio degli Albonesi.
The work’s title can be translated as Introduction to the Languages of Chaldean, Syrian and Armenian and the Ten Other Languages.
Meanwhile, the handwriting was recorded by Italian conjurer Ludovico Spoletano, who is himself a mystery to modern historians. Apparently, Albonesi may have heard about Spoletano through Guillaume Postel, a French intellectual who shared the author’s interest in “magical” languages.
The Devil’s Summoning
According to stories, Spoletano summoned Satan, quizzed him, and the devil was willing to answer through writing. However, Satan apparently chose not to posess the conjurer but made a pen float midair and wrote the answers directly on Spoletano’s paper.
There is no confirmation on this story.
The Garden of Eden
The script used may have been from the region of Amhara in Ethiopia, says Ashton. “According to a legend, [Amharic] was the primeval language spoken in Eden.”
Of course, numerous contemporary experts were skeptical about this and contend that the biblical garden of Eden was nothing more than something mythical.
The Devil’s Handwriting
Modern-day academics and amateur code-crackers say that the writing makes no sense, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
To top it all off, no one has been able to decipher the text and the notion that the “devil’s handwriting” specimen may be an elaborate prank at Postel and Albonesi.
The only demonic thing about the text is that a few of the characters seem to resemble pitchforks.
The Possibility of Schizophrenia
Despite Sister Maria’s note, Abate claims that it’s not likely that the devil ever wrote them. In an interview with The Times she says, “I personally believe that the nun had a good command of languages, which allowed her to invent the code. And [Sister Maria] may have suffered from a condition like schizophrenia, which made her imagine dialogues with the devil.”
A lot of the symptoms of schizophrenia resemble the signs of a demonic possession. They include hallucinations and bizarre fantasies. The incomprehensible “word salad” is also counted by some with the condition, which may or may not be a breakdown of a thought and may seem like they are speaking in tongues.
Delusions and Skewed Beliefs
One should also note the delusions a schizophrenic experiences may reflect their cultural context.
For example, skewed beliefs often revolve around shame in Japan, while friends and family can be a source of paranoid fantasies in Pakistan. In some Christian societies, these delusions often involve religion (e.g. believing oneself to be the messiah or possessed by the devil).
However, religion itself may be a catalyst for psychotic breakdowns, partly because of its unfathomable themes and otherworldly imagery, and partly because it can engender a splitting apart of the psyche.
It seems significant that Sister Maria experienced her spirituality as a source of conflict. Despite seeking refuge in a convent, she could not find salvation. Instead, the nun was apparently beset by those same demonic forces that the Bible beseeches us to resist.
A mental illness?
Of course, not all psychiatrists believe demonic possession is a type of mental illness. However, there are some such as Dr. Richard Gallagher of Columbia University, who have seen possession cases. According to him, demons are indeed real, and one of the things that occurs during these cases is the speaking of strange languages.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Gallagher says, “[demons are] fallen angels…They’ve been around for millennia, so they speak all languages. I’ve heard them speak Chinese [and] ancient Greek, which I studied. I’ve certainly heard them speak and understand Latin… [They do it] probably to freak you out or to show off, to boast.”
Believing in Spirits
“I understand [that] believing in evil spirits is not a very comforting belief, and it has implications that, you know, we don’t want to accept,” he continues. “Having said that, there’s plenty of alternate theories. [But] I don’t think that those theories usually hold water. And when you’ve seen some of these cases, you realize that this is clearly not something that could be explained by psychopathology, or trickery or anything like that.”
The Neurobiology of our Experiences
In continuation, there are more mental health professionals that share Gallagher’s beliefs. According to Dr. Mark Albanese, there are some psychiatrists who recognize their beliefs play a role.
“There’s a certain openness to experiences that are happening that are beyond what we can explain by MRI scans, neurobiology or even psychological theories,” he tells CNN.
A Psychologist’s Take
According to a psychologist named Dr. Stephen Diamond, exorcism may represent an archaic form of psychotherapy. For example, Jesus Christ was said to have cast out “demons” occupying sick people.
Our Inner “Demons”
The expert explained, “Psychotherapy, like exorcism, commonly consists of a prolonged, pitched, demanding, soul-wrenching, sometimes tedious bitter battle royale with the patient’s diabolically obdurate emotional ‘demons.’ [This is] at times waged over the course of years or even decades rather than weeks or months – and not necessarily always with consummate success.”
Psychotherapy vs. Exorcism
Diamond added, “The main difference between psychotherapy and exorcism is that modern psychotherapy is typically a secular treatment for figurative, metaphorical ‘demons’ – mental, emotional or psychological traumas, memories or ‘complexes’ – whereas exorcism takes the existence of demons quite literally. Doing so can have certain advantages in treating patients who believe in the devil, demons and exorcism – if for no other reason than the extremely impressive power of suggestion.”
A Wild Metro Ride in Mexico City
The belief in demonic possession continues to be widespread in some societies. For example, a passenger on a train in Mexico City filmed an impromptu “exorcism.” The video was watched more than a million times and a seemingly well-dressed man was appearing to beseech Jesus Christ while the possessed woman screeched the word “devil.”
“In the name of Jesus, leave.”
The man said, “In the name of Jesus, leave… You need to leave in the name of Jesus. You need to go!” While the woman initially appeared to submit, she then attacked him with a large umbrella. And according to media sources from the area, such bizarre sights are not unheard of on the city’s metro trains.
Censorship in Libraries
In addition, religious convictions are sometimes so vivid and deeply held that they beget moral panic. For example, in September 2019, St. Edward Catholic School in Nashville purged its library of Harry Potter books upon the say-so of the school pastor, who had apparently been advised by a number of exorcists to do so.
The Role of Harry Potter
Rev. Dan Reehil contacted the students’ parents, writing, “[The Harry Potter] books present magic as both good and evil – which is not true but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells which, when read by a human being, risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”
In some situations, the consequences are a little more tragic. In London back in 2016, the “possession” of 26-year-old Kennedy Ife started with a sore throat along with some sleeping problems. His condition then worsened, and he became delusional, agitated, and even claimed to have a snake inside him.
Fact or Fiction?
Back in 17th-century Sicily, the nuns of Loudon and countless others have been described in any other terms than metaphysical? Whatever the reality, the so-called devil’s letter that Sister Maria penned is weird enough to keep us guessing even today. And sometimes it’s the gray areas between fact and fiction that offer the most intrigue.
Her Body Today
Admit it or not, no story about a nun is as intriguing as Saint Bernadette’s. Although she has been dead for over 140 years, there’s something strange about her corpse: it remains eerily similar as it was on the day that she died.