A copy of Paul de Saint-Hilaire’s (1973) “La Belgique Mysterieuse” arrived in the post today. I saw it mentioned here, and ordered it because it seemed to be the only book out there (apart from Rudy Cambier’s Knights Templar / Nostradamus stuff) where Moustier Church’s strange cryptograms are discussed at all.
It’s a handy little thing, that divides its mysterious subject matter into:
(1) Megalithic Belgium
(2) Templar Belgium
(3) Lost Treasure Belgium
(4) Alchemical Belgium
(5) Fantastic(al) Belgium
(6) Underground Belgium, and – of course –
(7) Secret Belgium.
Each chapter finishes up with a suggested tour around the Belgian countryside to take in the major landmarks it discussed. So… what does our man say about Moustier, then?
* On p.60, Saint-Hilaire says that the cryptograms may relate to a treasure hidden in the 19th century. (But without giving any sources or references – annoyingly, there is no bibliography).
* On p.119, he notes that the cryptograms are laid out in the same way as you would expect to see “The Tables of the Law” (i.e. the Ten Commandments), but that it has so far proved impossible to find the key.
* On p.129, he speculates that examining some windows of the church and a small chapel in the village might prove useful in decrypting the inscriptions. (But, again, without giving any sources or references).
And that’s all Saint-Hilaire says about Moustier. It’s not much, true: but it is what it is.
* * * * * * *
Having mused on the Moustier enigma for the last few weeks, my own conclusions are:
* I don’t believe that it was carved before 1800
* I don’t believe that it uses a simple substitution cipher
* I don’t believe that it uses a transposition cipher
* I do believe that it includes copying mistakes
* I do believe that it was copied from a written version, not from a carved text
* I do believe that the written version was probably devised for the rebuilding of the Church
* I do believe that the resemblance to The Tables of the Law will prove to be no coincidence
Put all that together, and I suspect that the cipher that was used was very probably what is generally known as the Vigenère cipher (even though it was actually first invented by Bellaso, but we’ll let that pass).
The immediate question is, of course, is whether this is historically plausible for the proposed date? I’m sure it is – in fact, at that very time, it was renowned as le chiffre indéchiffrable, i.e. ‘the unbreakable cipher’.
I also have here a fascinating (if occasionally meandering) book by Ole Immanuel Franksen called “Mr Babbage’s Secret”, which reveals that Charles Babbage had quietly worked out the basic principles of how to crack Vigenère ciphertexts as early as 1846. This was later independently worked out by a Frenchman called de Viaris in 1888, who published his results in the “Génie Civil”, but without attracting much attention.
Because the Vigenère cipher was particularly popular in France, I predict that the plaintext will turn out to be in French: and moreover, I suspect that the key word will turn out to be something to do with the Ten Commandments (or perhaps Christianity in general), or perhaps even the name of something featured in a church window (as Saint-Hilaire speculated).
Anyway, that’s pretty much as good a set of constraints as my historical sleuthing has been able to generate, and I suspect there’s no more useful information out there we can get our hands on. So now it’s probably time to move to phase #2: checking the transcription and doing a bit of cryptanalysis. If it’s a Vig, can we work out what its key-length is? Hopefully we shall see! 🙂