A few weeks back, reader Paul Tanimura left a comment asking for help in identifying the symbols shown in this image. It’s a piece of embroidered brocade fabric that has been used to wrap a document describing a Japanese family tree, and though it bears (to my eyes at least) some distinctly manga-esque animal figures the family claims that it hasn’t been touched since the last entry was made in 1782. Paul writes:
This is […] an inquiry to solicit the wisdom of [Shady Characters] readers for deciphering the ‘shady characters’ woven into a golden brocade, believed to be produced in the 17th century China by a Christian missionary and subsequently exported to Japan before Christianity was forbidden. […] There are two character strings, each composed of four characters, possibly in reference to Jesus and Mary.
There’s much more detail at Paul’s website, including his own speculations on the two rows of text:
The top row starts with the letter M and followed by a mirror-image B. The third letter looks like Greek lambda or A without the horizontal bar. The fourth letter appears to be an ampersand made of a lower-case e and t, current letter &. If the third letter is A, the letters A and M combined could mean Auspice Maria, a familiar combination in the Catholic Church for the Virgin Mary. The mirror-image B may be another ampersand with upper-case E and T. Then the first line could be deciphered as M ET A et [and so on], perhaps meaning ‘as well as Virgin Mary’.
The second line looks very strange, but the first letter which looks like a spring might be a deformed ω(omega) scribed by somebody unfamiliar with Greek script. Then the third letter which looks like a mirror-image C could be α(alpha), implying a reference to the Book of Revelation. The second letter is enigmatic but appears to be a letter I with a banner with two dots, maybe symbolic of the sun and the moon. The fourth letter looks a straight forward E. Then the middle line could be deciphered as Iα(alpha) Eω(omega) [and so on]. IE are the first two letters of the Latin spelling IESUS for Jesus. Thus the whole line could mean the Holy Name of Jesus.
It isn’t punctuation-related, I grant you, but it is an interesting problem. The letter-like characters are unfamiliar to me, but have any Shady Characters readers come across anything like this before? Leave your thoughts and insights in the comments below!