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Explore the Dublin Destinations That Inspired “Dracula”

When Bram Stoker penned “Dracula,” arguably the Irish author’s most recognizable piece of writing, little did he know how much the blood-hungry protagonist would become embedded in pop culture years later. Today Dracula is easily one of the most recognizable characters in literary history, not to mention a staple at Halloween costume parties around the world.

Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Stoker took much of his inspiration for his horror novel, which was released in 1897, from his hometown and points nearby. From the crypts tunneling beneath a medieval church in the center of Dublin to the crumbling façade of a former monastery in a seaside town where he would go on holiday, inspiration was all around him. And there’s no better way to experience the man behind the book in person than to follow in his footsteps.

In addition to being a wealth of inspiration for the author, the city is also the location of the annual Bram Stoker Festival. Now in its seventh year, the four-day event (October 26-29) celebrates all things Stoker and will include a “gothically inspired program of events” such as live performances, readings and guided tours. While many of his haunts will serve as venues during the festival, the following places are a must visit for any “Dracula” fan.

Bram Stoker’s Homes

Bram Stoker's former home on Kildare Street.
Bram Stoker’s former home on Kildare Street. (Flickr Michael Coghlan – Flickr/Creative Commons)

The small, Georgian-style house located at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, Dublin 3, is everything one would expect from the birthplace of the literary legend. In an article published in “The Irish Times,” the author describes Stoker’s childhood home as an old house that “creaks and groans at night” with crucifixes displayed prominently on the walls and black wooden beams crossing the ceiling. Stoker lived there until adulthood, eventually moving into a house at 30 Kildare Street, Dublin, 2, an historically landmarked building. While both properties are not open to the public, they’re still both worth visiting just to be able to walk in the author’s footsteps.

Trinity College Dublin

Inside the library at Trinity College, where Stoker was a student.
Inside the library at Trinity College, where Stoker was a student. (Flickr Fred Bigio – Flickr/Creative Commons)

During his college years, Stoker was better known for his athletic prowess than his academic abilities, competing in weight lifting and speed walking competitions. Between studying and events, he also worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle and juggled roles as auditor of the school’s historical society and president of the school’s philosophical society, making him a well-known figure around the campus. In 1870 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, claiming that he graduated with honors, however Trinity College refutes that claim.

Saint Ann’s Church of Ireland

Built in the early 18th century, Saint Ann’s has been an important landmark in Dublin for centuries and is notable for both its Baroque style of architecture and its many contributions to the community (since 1723, the church has had a bread shelf near the altar that offers freshly baked bread for anyone in need). The church is also where Stoker and Florence Balcombe were married in 1878. Interestingly, before tying the knot, Balcombe was dating another local legend: Oscar Wilde.

Dublin Writers Museum

A bust of Stoker created by sculptor Bryan Moore resides inside the Dublin Writers Museum.
A bust of Stoker created by sculptor Bryan Moore resides inside the Dublin Writers Museum. (Courtesy Dublin Writers Museum)

Much like Stoker, many of the world’s most celebrated writers have lived in Dublin, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Brinsley Butler Sheridan. Perhaps one of the best places in the city to experience their literary accomplishments firsthand is at the Dublin Writers Museum. Housed inside an 18th century mansion, the museum contains a comprehensive collection of books, portraits and artifacts belonging to these late writers, including a first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula.” Other holdings include business letters penned by Stoker, a portrait by painter Aidan Hickey and a bust created by sculptor Bryan Moore given to the museum earlier this year in the presence of several members of the Stoker family.

St. Michan’s Church Crypts

The mummified remains of Dublin's elite rest in the crypts beneath St. Michan's Church.
The mummified remains of Dublin’s elite rest in the crypts beneath St. Michan’s Church. (Jennifer Boyer – Flickr/Creative Commons)

As one of the oldest churches in Dublin (it dates back to 1095), it’s no surprise that this medieval place of worship gives off a bit of an eerie vibe. But it’s what rests beneath St. Michan’s that’s truly creepy. Located past a metal-chained doorway and limestone stairway sits the burial vaults of some of the city’s most notable residents, including the Earl of Leitrim. Precariously stacked, many of the coffins have given way to the hands of time, revealing the skeletal remains of its occupants. It’s said that Stoker regularly visited the crypts and used them as inspiration when writing “Dracula.”

Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

Stoker visited Whitby Abby in the seaside town of Whitby while on holiday.
Stoker visited Whitby Abby in the seaside town of Whitby while on holiday. (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Although not in Dublin (it’s located 300 miles to the east in England), Whitby played a key role as inspiration in the creation of “Dracula.” In 1890, Stoker went on holiday to the seaside town, spending time exploring its medieval architecture, including Whitby Abbey, a crumbling Benedictine monastery founded in the 11th century. Stoker mentioned the abbey in his book along with Swales, one of Dracula’s victims, which Stoker took from an inscription on the headstone from a nearby graveyard. But perhaps the author’s biggest epiphany was during a visit to the local library, where he flipped through a book about Vlad Tepes, a 15th century prince who killed his enemies by driving a wooden stake into their hearts, thus earning the nickname Vlad the Impaler—or simply, Dracula.

SMITHSONIAN.COM

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York TimesScientific AmericanPopular MechanicsUnited Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

Sinan, the Ottoman Empire’s Master Architect

Rustem Pasha Mosque in the foreground and the Suleymaniye Mosque, an Ottoman imperial mosque on the Third Hill of Istanbul.
National Geographic Creative/Alamy

Between the 13th and 16th centuries the Ottoman state grew from a small Turkish principality in Anatolia into a sprawling empire that controlled territory in eastern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. This transformation was accompanied by the development of a distinctively Ottoman style of architecture. Across the diverse territories that had been gathered under Ottoman rule—and that had little in common in terms of language, religion, or culture—monumental buildings featuring massive domes and soaring pencil-thin minarets were instantly recognizable manifestations of Ottoman grandeur.

The individual most responsible for developing and refining the classical Ottoman architectural style was a builder named Sinan (1491–1588), who served as the empire’s chief architect from 1539 until his death in 1588. During that time he designed hundreds of buildings, including mosques, palaces, baths, tombs, and caravansaries, and oversaw the construction of hundreds more.

Sinan was born to a Christian family in southeast Anatolia. When he was 21 he was drafted into the Jannisary corps, an elite Ottoman infantry force who were recruited as adolescents or young men from the Christian territories of the empire and converted to Islam. He participated in the military campaigns of Suleyman the Magnificent, both as a combatant and as an engineer—the latter allowed him to develop the building expertise that he would put to use later in life.

When Sinan was 47, Suleyman appointed him as the chief architect in Istanbul. Sinan embarked on a series of increasingly impressive buildings. His first large mosque was the Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul, dedicated to the memory of Suleyman’s son and heir who died at the age of 22.

Another of Sinan’s most important works is the Süleymaniye Mosque complex, which remains an essential feature of Istanbul’s skyline. It is almost as large as the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church that was converted into a mosque in Ottoman times. The core of the building is a vast dome flanked by two semidomes, which combine to form an awe-inspiring interior space. The ground on which the Süleymaniye complex was constructed slopes toward the Bosporus strait; one of Sinan’s architectural talents was his ability to build on challenging terrain.

The Selimiye Mosque, built in Edirne between 1569 and 1575, is considered Sinan’s masterpiece. In this building, Sinan managed to build a dome roughly as large as the dome of the Hagia Sophia, both having a diameter of about 31 meters. The dome sits on eight piers in an octagon, rather than the usual four larger piers, giving the central space a feeling of openness and weightlessness that is enhanced by the light that filters in from hundreds of small windows.

After completing the Selimiye Mosque, Sinan continued to design smaller buildings until his death in 1588.

 

Isaac Newton’s List of the 57 Sins he Committed by the Age of 19

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Sir Isaac Newton was a mathematician and physicist during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  He developed the principles of modern physics, especially about motion and gravity, and was considered instrumental in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, according to Biography.

Newton is a very multifaceted figure.  He was undeniably a brilliant scientific mind, and a very pious man.  He was also prone to fits of rage, insecurity, and social withdrawal, where he would do no work and isolate himself from everyone.

He had a longtime interest in the study of alchemy, and was searching for the recipe to create the Philosopher’s Stone, which was reputed to turn base metals into gold, and have the power to confer eternal life.

Unlike with his interests in math and physics, his alchemical research was a very private pursuit, and was not driven by money so much as it was inspired by a desire for power over nature, according to Nova.

All of these things taken together build a picture of a man who struggled with mental illness, probably bipolar disorder, according to Futurism.

When he was around 19 or 20, Newton maintained a diary in which he cataloged a list of his sins.  Examining his list, it’s clear that he had problems with anger from a young age.

He identifies, among his sins, “peevishness” with his mother, his sister, and at “Master Clarks, for a piece of bread and butter”.  He lists “falling out with the servants”, as well.

You could say that bad temper and grouchiness are par for the course for a boy of his years, and that would certainly be true, but he also specifies, as number 13, “threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them, and the house over them”.

He also cites multiple examples of physical aggression, punching his sister, beating people, and putting a pin in someone’s hat, so that it will scratch them. He comes across as anxious, egotistical, and dominating.

Newton was not a people person.  He didn’t make friends.  In his personal life, he only had close emotional relation relationships with two people, his niece Catherine Barton, who became his housekeeper in London, and a mathematician named Fatio de Duillier, who was only 25 when he and Newton met.

Their relationship was very emotionally intense, and neither man ever married, which makes some of Newton’s biographers speculate that the men were romantically involved, although there is no proof.

In his professional life, he was very touchy and insecure about his work, and would fly into fits of rage over its criticism, resulting in his withdrawing and refusing to continue his work.  These episodes of withdrawal could last for months.  He shied away from fame, and requested that his papers be published anonymously.

He had sincere religious beliefs, and was a nominal Anglican, but seemed to have a Puritan view of morality and religious observance, as can be seen from his list of sins.

Multiple items reflect his notions of what he owed to God, and his remorse at not always living up to that standard. He had a keen interest in mysticism that was tied firmly to his study of alchemy.

He believed that he had been chosen by God.  In fact, the pseudonym he took to communicate with fellow alchemists was Jehovah Sanctus Unus, which translates to “Holy God”, according to the New York Post.

Despite all of these issues, Sir Isaac Newton was brilliant, and prolific in his work.  His intellectual curiosity was not hampered by what was clearly a difficult personality, and despite his struggles and mood swings he still made a large and incredibly significant contribution to the world of science.

 Ian Harvey

Tracking Down the Origins of Cystic Fibrosis in Ancient Europe

Human Lungs CF
The airways inside the human lung. (Magic mine/Shutterstock.com)

Imagine the thrill of discovery when more than 10 years of research on the origin of a common genetic disease, cystic fibrosis (CF), results in tracing it to a group of distinct but mysterious Europeans who lived about 5,000 years ago.

CF is the most common, potentially lethal, inherited disease among Caucasians—about one in 40 carry the so-called F508del mutation. Typically only beneficial mutations, which provide a survival advantage, spread widely through a population.

CF hinders the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, which triggers malnutrition, causes lung disease that is eventually fatal and produces high levels of salt in sweat that can be life-threatening.

CF Symptom Diagram
Depending on the mutation a patient carries, they may experience some or all symptoms of cystic fibrosis. (Blausen.com staff (2014), CC BY-SA)

In recent years, scientists have revealed many aspects of this deadly lung disease which have led to routine early diagnosis in screened babies, better treatments and longer lives. On the other hand, the scientific community hasn’t been able to figure out when, where and why the mutation became so common. Collaborating with an extraordinary team of European scientists such as David Barton in Ireland and Milan Macek in the Czech Republic, in particular a group of brilliant geneticists in Brest, France led by Emmanuelle Génin and Claude Férec, we believe that we now know where and when the original mutation arose and in which ancient tribe of people.

We share these findings in an article in the European Journal of Human Genetics which represents the culmination of 20 years’ work involving nine countries.

What is cystic fibrosis?

My quest to determine how CF arose and why it’s so common began soon after scientists discovered the CFTR gene causing the disease in 1989. The most common mutation of that gene that causes the disease was called F508del. Two copies of the mutation—one inherited from the mother and the other from the father—caused the lethal disease. But, inheriting just a single copy caused no symptoms, and made the person a “carrier.”

I had been employed at the University of Wisconsin since 1977 as a physician-scientist focusing on the early diagnosis of CF through newborn screening. Before the gene discovery, we identified babies at high risk for CF using a blood test that measured levels of protein called immunoreactive trypsinogen (IRT). High levels of IRT suggested the baby had CF. When I learned of the gene discovery, I was convinced that it would be a game-changer for both screening test development and epidemiological research.

That’s because with the gene we could offer parents a more informative test. We could tell them not just whether their child had CF, but also whether they carried two copies of a CFTR mutation, which caused disease, or just one copy which made them a carrier.

CF Mutation
Parents carrying one good copy of the CF gene (R) and one bad copy of the mutated CF gene (r) are called carriers. When both parents transmit a bad copy of the CF gene to their offspring, the child will suffer from cystic fibrosis. Children who inherit just one bad copy will be carriers like their parents and can transmit the gene to their children. (Cburnett, CC BY-SA)

One might ask what is the connection between studying CF newborn screening and learning about the disease origin. The answer lies in how our research team in Wisconsin transformed a biochemical screening test using the IRT marker to a two-tiered method called IRT/DNA.

Because about 90 percent of CF patients in the U.S. and Europe have at least one F508del mutation, we began analyzing newborn blood for its presence whenever the IRT level was high. But when this two-step IRT/DNA screening is done, not only are patients with the disease diagnosed but also tenfold more infants who are genetic carriers of the disease are identified.

As preconception-, prenatal- and neonatal screening for CF have proliferated during the past two decades, the many thousands of individuals who discovered they were F508del carriers and their concerned parents often raised questions about the origin and significance of carrying this mutation themselves or in their children. Would they suffer with one copy? Was there a health benefit? It has been frustrating for a pediatrician specializing in CF to have no answer for them.

The challenge of finding origin of the CF mutation

I wanted to zero in on when this genetic mutation first starting appearing. Pinpointing this period would allow us to understand how it could have evolved to provide a benefit—at least initially—to those people in Europe who had it. To expand my research, I decided to take a sabbatical and train in epidemiology while taking courses in 1993 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The timing was perfect because the field of ancient DNA research was starting to blossom. New breakthrough techniques like the Polymerase Chain Reaction made it possible to study the DNA of mummies and other human archaeological specimens from prehistoric burials. For example, early studies were performed on the DNA from the 5,000-year-old Tyrolean Iceman, which later became known as Ötzi.

Ancient Burial
A typical prehistoric burial in a crouched fetal position. (Philip Farrell, CC BY-SA)

I decided that we might be able to discover the origin of CF by analyzing the DNA in the teeth of Iron Age people buried between 700-100 B.C. in cemeteries throughout Europe.

Using this strategy, I teamed up with archaeologists and anthropologists such as Maria Teschler-Nicolaat the Natural History Museum in Vienna, who provided access to 32 skeletons buried around 350 B.C. near Vienna. Geneticists in France collected DNA from the ancient molars and analyzed the DNA. To our surprise, we discovered the presence of the F508del mutation in DNA from three of 32 skeletons.

This discovery of F508del in Central European Iron Age burials radiocarbon-dated to 350 B.C. suggested to us that the original CF mutation may have arisen earlier. But obtaining Bronze Age and Neolithic specimens for such direct studies proved difficult because fewer burials are available, skeletons are not as well-preserved and each cemetery merely represents a tribe or village. So rather than depend on ancient DNA, we shifted our strategy to examine the genes of modern humans to figure out when this mutation first arose.

Why would a harmful mutation spread?

To find the origin of CF in modern patients, we knew we needed to learn more about the signature mutation—F508del—in people who are carriers or have the disease.

This tiny mutation causes loss of one amino acid out of the 1,480 amino acid chain and changes the shape of a protein on the surface of the cell that moves chloride in and out of the cell. When this protein is mutated, people carrying two copies of it—one from the mother and one from the father—are plagued with thick sticky mucus in their lungs, pancreas and other organs. The mucus in their lungs allows bacteria to thrive, destroying the tissue and eventually causing the lungs to fail. In the pancreas, the thick secretions prevent the gland from delivering the enzymes the body needs to digest food.

So why would such a harmful mutation continue to be transmitted from generation to generation?

Iron and Bronze Age Teeth and Bones
The Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, houses a large collection of Iron Age and Bronze Age skeletons which are curated by Dr. Maria Teschler-Nicola. These collections were the source of teeth and bones for investigation of ancient DNA and studies on ‘The Ancient Origin of Cystic Fibrosis.’ (Philip Farrell, CC BY-ND)

A mutation as harmful as F508del would never have survived among people with two copies of the mutated CFTR gene because they likely died soon after birth. On the other hand, those with one mutation may have a survival advantage, as predicted in Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory.

Perhaps the best example of a mutation favoring survival under stressful environmental conditions can be found in Africa, where fatal malaria has been endemic for centuries. The parasite that causes malaria infects the red blood cells in which the major constituent is the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin. Individuals who carry the normal hemoglobin gene are vulnerable to this mosquito-borne disease. But those who are carriers of the mutated “hemoglobin S” gene, with only one copy, are protected from severe malaria. However two copies of the hemoglobin S gene causes sickle cell disease, which can be fatal.

Here there is a clear advantage to carrying one mutant gene—in fact, about one in 10 Africans carries a single copy. Thus, for many centuries an environmental factor has favored the survival of individuals carrying a single copy of the sickle hemoglobin mutation.

Sickle Cell Gene
Individuals who carry two copies of the sickle cell gene suffer from sickle cell anemia, in which the blood cells become rigid sickle shapes and get stuck in the blood vessels, causing pain. Normal red blood cells are flexible discs that slide easily through vessels. (Designua/Shutterstock.com)

Similarly we wondered whether there was a health benefit to carrying a single copy of this specific CF mutation during exposures to environmentally stressful conditions. Perhaps, we reasoned, that’s why the F508del mutation was common among Caucasian Europeans and Europe-derived populations.

Clues from modern DNA

To figure out the advantage of transmitting a single mutated F508del gene from generation to generation, we first had to determine when and where the mutation arose so that we could uncover the benefit this mutation conferred.

We obtained DNA samples from 190 CF patients bearing F508del and their parents residing in geographically distinct European populations from Ireland to Greece plus a Germany-derived population in the U.S. We then identified a collection of genetic markers—essentially sequences of DNA—within the CF gene and flanking locations on the chromosome. By identifying when these mutations emerged in the populations we studied, we were able to estimate the age of the most recent common ancestor.

Next, by rigorous computer analyses, we estimated the age of the CF mutation in each population residing in the various countries.

Sickle Cell and Malaria
Two copies of the sickle cell gene cause the disease. But carrying one copy reduces the risk of malaria. The gene is widespread among people who live in regions of the world (red) where malaria is endemic. ( ellepigrafica)

We then determined that the age of the oldest common ancestor is between 4,600 and 4,725 years and arose in southwestern Europe, probably in settlements along the Atlantic Ocean and perhaps in the region of France or Portugal. We believe that the mutation spread quickly from there to Britain and Ireland, and then later to central and southeastern European populations such as Greece, where F508del was introduced only about 1,000 years ago.

Who spread the CF mutation throughout Europe?

Thus, our newly published data suggest that the F508del mutation arose in the early Bronze Age and spread from west to southeast Europe during ancient migrations.

Moreover, taking the archaeological record into account, our results allow us to introduce a novel concept by suggesting that a population known as the Bell Beaker folk were the probable migrating population responsible for the early dissemination of F508del in prehistoric Europe. They appeared at the transition from the Late Neolithic period, around 4000 B.C., to the Early Bronze Age during the third millennium B.C. somewhere in Western Europe. They were distinguished by their ceramic beakers, pioneering copper and bronze metallurgy north of the Alps and great mobility. All studies, in fact, show that they were into heavy migration, traveling all over Western Europe.

Bell Beaker Sites
Distribution of Bell Beaker sites throughout Europe. (DieKraft via Wikimedia Commons)

Over approximately 1,000 years, a network of small families and/or elite tribes spread their culture from west to east into regions that correspond closely to the present-day European Union, where the highest incidence of CF is found. Their migrations are linked to the advent of Western and Central European metallurgy, as they manufactured and traded metal goods, especially weapons, while traveling over long distances. It is also speculated that their travels were motivated by establishing marriage networks. Most relevant to our study is evidence that they migrated in a direction and over a time period that fit well with our results. Recent genomic data suggest that both migration and cultural transmission played a major role in diffusion of the “Beaker Complex” and led to a “profound demographic transformation” of Britain and elsewhere after 2400 B.C.

Determining when F508del was first introduced in Europe and discovering where it arose should provide new insights about the high prevalence of carriers—and whether the mutation confers an evolutionary advantage. For instance, Bronze Age Europeans, while migrating extensively, were apparently spared from exposure to endemic infectious diseases or epidemics; thus, protection from an infectious disease, as in the sickle cell mutation, through this genetic mutation seems unlikely.

As more information on Bronze Age people and their practices during migrations become available through archaeological and genomics research, more clues about environmental factors that favored people who had this gene variant should emerge. Then, we may be able to answer questions from patients and parents about why they have a CFTR mutation in their family and what advantage this endows.

Bell Beaker Artifacts
Examples of tools and ceramics created by the Bell Beaker people. (Benutzer:Thomas Ihle via German Wikipedia, CC BY-SA) 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The ConversationMatthew E. Baker, Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

How a Rejected Block of Marble Became the World’s Most Famous Statue

Florence, Italy Statue of David by Michelangelo
© massimo lama/Dreamstime.com

At the start of the 16th century the Opera del Duomo—the committee of officials in charge of the decoration and maintenance of the Florence cathedral—had a tricky unfinished project on its hands. A document from 1501 refers to a massive barely begun statue, “a certain man of marble, named David, badly blocked out and laid on its back in the courtyard.” The stone was a leftover from a long-running decorative project: in 1408 the committee had decided to decorate the roofline around the dome of the cathedral with massive statues of biblical prophets and mythological figures. The first two, put into place in the early 15th century, were a statue of Joshua sculpted in terra-cotta by Donatello and painted white to look like marble, and a statue of Hercules, sculpted by one of Donatello’s students, Agostino di Duccio.

A statue of David, the Biblical hero who slayed the giant Goliath, had been ordered in 1464. This commission went to Agostino, and a huge slab of marble was extracted from the Carrara quarries in Tuscany, Italy, for the project. For unknown reasons Agostino abandoned the project after doing only a little work, mostly roughing out around the legs.

Another sculptor, Antonio Rossellino, was hired to take over the project in 1476, but he backed out almost immediately, citing the poor quality of the marble. (Modern scientific analyses of the marble have confirmed that it is indeed of mediocre quality.) Left without a sculptor but too expensive to throw away, the massive slab sat out in the elements for a quarter century.

In the summer of 1501 a new effort was made to find a sculptor who could finish the statue. The 26-year-old sculptor Michelangelo was chosen and given two years to complete it. Early in the morning on September 13, 1501, the young artist got to work on the slab, extracting the figure of David in a miraculous process that the artist and writer Giorgio Vasari would later describe as “the bringing back to life of one who was dead.”

In 1504, as Michelangelo finished his work, Florentine officials concluded that the statue was too heavy to place in its intended location on the roofline of the cathedral. A committee of artists, including Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, met and decided that the statue should be placed at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In 1873 it was moved indoors to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and a replica was erected at the original site.

There are several aesthetic aspects of the David statue that may be connected with the tortuous process by which it was commissioned and created. The figure, although muscular, is slimmer than the bodybuilder-like physiques that are typical of Michelangelo’s other works. This may be because the marble slab was narrow, having been cut with the thinner statues of Donatello and Agostino’s era in mind. The absence of David’s traditional accoutrements, a sword and the severed head of Goliath, may be because there was no room to carve them in the block of marble or possibly because they would have been invisible once the statue was put in place on the cathedral roof. Likewise, David’s disproportionately large right hand and prominent facial expression may have been exaggerated to ensure that they would be legible to spectators on the ground.

WRITTEN BY:  The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 

Legendary 17th century letter from Satan to a nun finally deciphered

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There is a legend that dates back to the 17th century, about an Italian nun who claimed to have written a number of letters during an episode of demonic possession.

The nun, Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione, believed that the Devil himself wrote the letters while attempting to steal her from God. Only one of Sister Maria’s letters has survived.

Nobody at the time could translate the 14 lines of writing because it was apparently written in unknown language.

And for more than three centuries, nobody could decipher the letter. Eventually, academics, cryptographers, and occultists joined forces to decipher it with a code-breaking software found on the Dark Web.

The Dark Web is that place on the Internet where you find anything and everything that might otherwise be forbidden, such as cybercrime, drugs, and other shady matters.

But there are also brilliant applications that can be used for productive aims such as deciphering a 17th-century letter.

Daniele Abate, director of the Ludum science museum in the Metropolitan City of Catania, Sicily, told The Times of London that thanks to an intelligence-grade code-breaking system they could finally learn the meaning of the mysterious jumble of archaic script.

“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,” said Abate. “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. We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms [thoughts depicted as symbols] repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm.”

Sister Maria had joined the Benedictine convent when she was 15. She was well known and liked by the other sisters and the abbess.

And then, one August day in 1676 when Sister Maria was 31 years old, she was found on the floor of her quarters, her face covered in ink and the letters clutched in her hands.

When she woke up, the nun claimed that she was possessed by Satan, who made her sign the letters but she resisted and wrote only “Ohimé” (oh me), for which she was later blessed.

And although the letter has recently sparked people’s curiosity worldwide, the research team at Ludum science museum hasn’t released the complete text yet, saying that it speaks of the nature of God’s relationship with man.

They have confirmed that the letter says: “God thinks he can free mortals … this system works for no one.” It also speaks about God and Zoroaster as inventions of the people; of the River Styx, saying, “Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

In Greek mythology, the River Styx separates the world of the living from that of the dead. And it was Charon, the ferryman, who took the souls to the Underworld where they waited to be born again.

Charon was happy to do his job if the dead paid the fee to cross the river. According to the myths, when somebody died, their family buried them with coins laid on their eyes so that the soul of their beloved ones would safely cross Styx.

Abate did try to discover more logical explanations about the nature of the letter. In his opinion, Sister Maria was intelligent and well educated, but she probably suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The mishmash of languages she used to write the letter were ones that she is likely to have learned during her time in the convent. As for her claims that voices spoke to her and told her what to do (write the letters), this supports Abate’s theory that the nun suffered from a form of schizophrenia.

Alex A

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