The Lead Books of Sacromonte, also known as the Libros Plúmbeos or the Sacromonte manuscripts, are a collection of purportedly ancient religious texts that were supposedly discovered in the 16th century in the Sacromonte hills near Granada, Spain. These texts were said to be inscribed on lead plates and contained valuable information about early Christianity and the history of the region.
For many, they were an invaluable discovery, which confirmed the earliest presence of Christianity in Granada. However, suspicion soon arose, and many began asking questions about the authenticity of the lead plates. Today, they are considered forgeries, but not everyone is convinced of this verdict. So, what is the actual truth? Is there any legitimacy to these seemingly ancient lead books?
Stained glass window depicting Saint Cecilio in Granada, whose remains were supposedly found alongside the Lead Books if Sacromonte. (Bill Perry / Adobe Stock)
The Story of Saint Caecilius of Elvira and the Lead Books of Sacromonte
The story goes that a group of local laborers stumbled upon these lead plates while doing construction work in the Sacromonte hills. They claimed to have found a set of 22 books, written in a combination of Latin, Arabic and Hebrew, along with some illustrations. The discovery was significant because it was believed to provide insights into the early history of Christianity in Spain and the supposed presence of Saint Cecilio, one of the first Christian martyrs in the Iberian Peninsula.
Sacromonte is a hillside on the outskirts of Granada, and was one of its traditional eastern neighborhoods. Traditionally, it was the neighborhood of the Granadian Romani, who settled in the city after the Christian conquest of the city in 1492 AD. Ever since, it was one of the most picturesque neighborhoods of the city, with cave houses built directly into the whitewashed stone. Of course, there were many natural caves here that were not inhabited, and seldom explored. It is in one of these caves that the lead books were discovered, between 1595 and 1606.
Together with the books were discovered the burned remains of twelve persons, which—according to the book—belonged to Saint Caecilius of Elvira and eleven of his followers. Caecilius of Elvira is the patron saint of Granada, a Christian missionary of the 1st century who baptized the city and became the first bishop of the Archdiocese of Granada. He was subsequently burned to death by the followers of Roman Emperor Nero.
Initially, the Christian community of Granada was astounded by the discoveries, and they even attracted the attention of the Spanish royal family. But soon, questions arose, especially from the Vatican. They wanted to test their authenticity, and to attempt and translate the mystic texts within.
Engaving entitled “Martirio de San Cecilio y dos escudos” which translates to “Martyrdom of Saint Cecilius and Two Shields” by Francisco Heylan. (Public domain)
The Lead Books of Sacromonte Spark a Flurry of Questions
Ultimately, the authenticity of the Lead Books of Sacromonte has been a subject of controversy and skepticism ever since their discovery. Several scholars, both contemporary and modern, have raised doubts about their origin and validity. For example, many experts have pointed out linguistic and historical anomalies in the texts, suggesting that they were likely forged by someone with a limited understanding of the languages and historical context they purportedly represented.
Furthermore, despite extensive excavations in the Sacromonte area, no solid archaeological evidence has been found to support the claim of the lead books’ discovery and archaeologists have been unable to unearth anything else related to them. This lack of corroborating evidence raises suspicions about their authenticity.
Additionally, the content of the Lead Books of Sacromonte has been described as a mix of Christian, Islamic and Jewish elements, which some scholars argue is unlikely to have existed in the same context during the early centuries of the Christian era. Whoever supposedly created these books would have used one language or script. Using three seems somewhat odd.
But, after all, history and science—when they correlate—seldom lie. So, the scientific analysis of the lead plates themselves has shown that they date to the 16th century, which is consistent with the time of their supposed discovery. If they were older, as claimed, the analysis would show it.
History too, has debunked claims for their authenticity. The 16th century, when the Lead Books of Sacromonte were supposedly discovered, was a time of religious turmoil in Spain, and there were several instances of religious forgeries aimed at bolstering the Christian presence in the region.
Remember, Granada—and much of Spain—was conquered by the Muslims, and was under their influence for many centuries. When it was time for the Spanish to regain their freedom, they were willing to boost the influence of Christianity at any turn. Could the Lead Books of Sacromonte be a simple forgery to help in this?
Reproduction of one o the Lead Books of Sacromonte. (Public domain)
Lead Books of Sacromonte: A Controversial Chapter in Spanish History
For these and various other reasons, most scholars and experts deem the Lead Books of Sacromonte as forgeries, or, at the very least, as highly suspect. While they have historical and cultural significance in the context of Spanish history and folklore, they are generally not considered genuine ancient texts and are not regarded as reliable sources for understanding the history of early Christianity in Spain.
However, there are still those who believe that these are genuine relics of early Christianity, and one of Granada’s most important relics at that. What do you think? Is there truth to these plates? Or are they a 16th century attempt at boosting Christian presence in the region? You be the judge.
Top image: Etching by Francisco Heylan depicting the discover of the Lead Books of Sacromonte. Source: Public domain
By Aleksa Vučković
Drayson, E. 2016. The Lead Books of Granada. Springer.
Hagerty, M. J. 1980. Los libros plúmbeos del Sacromonte. Editora Nacional.
Harris, A. K. 2007. From Muslim to Christian Granada: Inventing a City’s Past in Early Modern Spain. Johns Hopkins University Press.
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