10 Medieval Book Curses To Protect Your Books From Evil People

Hello everyone, 

My name is Alin and welcome to my YouTube channel, today we’re going to learn ten medieval book curses that will help you to protect your books from evil people. So let’s do this.

I know all of us have experienced losing books and sometimes when we lend books to friends and acquaintances, they are never returned back. So these medieval curses were designed to prevent these kinds of things from happening and it might help you to change this situation in the future. 

Using curses to discourage people from book theft is a very old practice, and some of the earliest curses we can find in Ancient Egypt. During the medieval period, book curses became a common practice, as illuminated manuscripts were expensive items and involved a lot of physical effort and sometimes took years to create them. Besides this, for extra security, medieval libraries chained books to their desks and private owners might lock their books in chests to protect them from thieves.

In the book‘ ‘Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses’, Mark Drogin collected some of these curses that he found in medieval manuscripts. The curses were written at the beginning or at the end of the books and contained all sorts of horrible things that could happen to someone who would steal or damage a book. The scribes weren’t always creative with their curses and this meant that you could find the same curses in other books. As we can imagine, some people believed these curses and sometimes they didn’t want to sacrifice their lives for a book.

So let’s look at the different types of curses used by medieval scribes,  and the ones most often used were related to excommunication.

EXCOMMUNICATION BOOK CURSES

Let’s read three excommunication curses. 

This is a straightforward curse from a German manuscript,  Die vier Bücher der Königer

‘May the sword of anathema slay

If anyone steals this book away.’

Wonderful.

In a 13th century manuscript from England we can find this curse:

This is the book of St.James of Wigmore. If anyone takes it away or maliciously destroys this notice in taking it away from the above-mentioned place, may he be tied by the chain of greater excommunication. Amen. So be it. So be it. So be it.’

And another manuscript from the same period has this curse written:

‘This book belongs to St Mary of Robertsbridge; whosoever shall steal it, or sell it, or in any way alienate it from this House, or mutilate it, let him be anathema-marantha. Amen.’ And a note added a century later: ‘I John, Bishop of Exeter, know not where the aforesaid House is, nor did I steal this book, but acquired it in a lawful way.’

A person who was honest about how he acquired this book.


WRATH OF GOD BOOK CURSES

Then we have the Wrath of God curses. For example, this is a curse from a 9th-century manuscript kept at the monastery of St. Gall in France: 

‘May no one believe that ever have I been taken,

But that happily this place never have I forsaken.

Yet may no one doubt that the wrath of God upon him will fall

If he essays to take me from the confines of St. Gall.’

A similar curse we can find in another medieval book:

‘This book is one,

And God’s curse is another;

They that take the one

God give them the other.’

INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE BOOK CURSES

And then we have the scribes you wouldn’t want to mess with, what I would call the real OG’s. These scribes imagined all sorts of violent punishments for the people who would try to steal books.

In a 12th century Bible found at the Abbey of Saint Mary in Arnstein,Germany, the scribe added this curse:

 ‘If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.’

 No comment!

In a Book of Hours written in the 16th century, Simon Vostre of Paris added a pretty graphic curse: 

‘Whoever steals this Book of Prayer

May he be ripped apart by swine,

His heart be splintered, this I swear,

And his body dragged along the Rhine.’

Now we definitely know that we won’t touch this book. While in a manuscript owned by the Count of Orleans we find this curse:

‘Whoever steals this book

Will hang on a gallows in Paris,

And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,

And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,

And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.’

Another category of people targeted by curses where the readers who wouldn’t care properly about the books they were reading. So if you would spill a drink or food on a book  or you would make other marks on it, you would be in big  trouble.

A curse cited by Mark Drogin in his book: 

‘Who folds a leafe downe

ye divel toaste browne,

Who makes marke or blotte

ye divel roaste hot,

Who stealeth thisse boke

ye divel shall cooke.

Another example is a curse written in manuscript from the 12th century

‘The book of Saint Marie and Saint Liborius in Patherburnen. A curse upon the one who takes this book, a blessing upon the one who keeps it safe. If anyone removes or cuts a page, may he be accursed.

MODERN ‘BOOK CURSES’

In addition to this, let’s look a little bit at how things have changed in the modern world and how bookplates have been used as warnings to prevent theft and illegal borrowing. 

Some of the book plates have a very a short and simple message, while other bookplates deliver a more powerful and threatening statements: 

You are respectfully invited to return this book to Virginia Lewis‘ & ‘You are respectfully invited to return this book to Jeff Chapman

‘I will protect my book!’ Seems like a pretty decent statement but when you see the image attached you will realize that something dramatic will happen if you don’t return this book the owner.

A funny bookplate shows a man reading a newspaper with this headline: 

‘Man Murdered: Fails to Return Book Borrowed from Lloyd Douglas’, while on another bookplate we can read this: ‘To him who sends a stealing hand / and it does not come back at his command / send not the other –  you can yet / borrow the book – and then forget’.

So what is the moral of this video, before lending a book to other people, don’t forget to write a curse on it, so the person knows that the book is important for you and you mean business.

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