Johannes Trithemius was a 15th century abbot, lexicographer, historian and cryptographer. He studied at the University of Heidelberg. Travelling to his home town in 1482, he was caught in a snowstorm and took refuge in a Benedictine abbey. He decided to stay and was elected abbot in 1483, at the age of twenty-one. He set out to transform the abbey from a neglected and undisciplined place into a center of learning.
However, his efforts did not meet with enthusiasm and his reputation as a "magician" was also a problem. He later become the abbot of St. James Abbey, Würzburg and died there in 1516.
Trithemius' most famous work is Steganographia. The work has lent its name to the field of stenography----the art of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient can decipher them. Additionally, his book, Polygraphiae, was the first printed book on cryptography.
One of Trithemius' schemes was to conceal messages in long invocations of the names of angels, with the secret message appearing as a pattern of letters within the words. For example, as every other letter: "My event was ten to morn" hides the message: "Meet at noon."
As an example of cryptography, try this cryptogram and see what you think!
Click here for our prioress's reflection on the Feast of Benedict.
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