Encrypted epigraphs in ancient churches


Language originates from the urge to communicate. If, on one hand, this is believed to be true, on the other, it is also true that language can be used to conceal a piece of information. Several methods can be used to manipulate texts so as to hinder their comprehension by a certain audience. These methods fall under the umbrella of “encryptions”. One hypothesis on the origins of encryption is that it was invented in war scenarios. Indeed, in war, each side is eager to steal from their enemy military plans and any useful piece of information. As society became more sophisticated, with the development of diplomacy, poetry and intellectual games, the intriguing science of cryptography blossomed.

Today, we publish on our Theses and Papers page a new academic article: Encrypted Epigraphs. A Decryption Report Of The Mysterious Epigraph In The Neapolitan Church Of Santa Maria La Nova. In this article, the independent scholar Cosimo Palma studies an unusual finding: an encrypted epigraphy in a church. Secret information is hidden in plain sight inside a place where encryptions are forbidden. This epigraphy was discovered in 2014 in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova, in Naples (Italy). According to the speculations of some researchers, behind the epigraphy, in the cloister of the church, you can find the tomb of Vlad III of Valachia, popularly known as Count Dracula.

Palma processed the epigraphy using a Python- based algorithm. The analysis highlighted the presence of linguistic features that support the encryption hypothesis, namely that the epigraph was written in a natural language and encrypted by simple characters substitution. A preliminary analysis on lexical diversity, diphthongs’ and triphthongs’ count, vocals’ and consonants’ intertwinement, palindromes and anagrams suggests that the natural language is Coptic, although Greek and Latin could not be discarded altogether.

If you are interested in ancient languages, check out our video-fix on decoding a mysterious language.


Written by Maria Bruno, Schuman Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit. She holds a master’s degree in Translation and a bachelor’s degree in Italian Language and Literature. She is trained in websites and social media management, content writing and SEO. Currently, she is studying for her Diplôme Universitaire in Terminology at the University of Savoie-Mont Blanc.