The medieval book that defies the code-breakers.
At the heart of Yale University’s sprawling campus, a large rectangular edifice dominates one side of Hewitt Quadrangle. Six pale floors of bronze, granite and translucent Vermont marble rise above ground level to be supplemented by a further three subterranean storeys. Replacing the traditional glass window panes, the pallid marble nullifies the harmful effects that direct sunlight would have upon the building’s precious contents and helps to create a compartmentalised and unabashed facade. And the contents are precious indeed, for this is Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; one of the largest buildings in the world dedicated to the collection and preservation of rare texts. Gutenberg Bibles, Dickens’ first editions and many more highly-prized tomes can all be counted among the Library’s impressive collections.
Among the several million manuscripts that reside within the building’s shadowy depths is one particularly intriguing manuscript, catalogued as Item MS408.
MS408’s origin, language and meaning are shrouded by a cloak of mystery; even the author is unknown. Its translation has defied NSA code breakers, veteran World War Two decryption experts from Bletchley Park and everyone else on the planet for centuries. Even that learned figure from England’s history, John Dee, is supposed to have owned the tome and found its contents to be unfathomable.
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