Leaden Books of Sacromonte, Granada Spain

Between 1595 and 1599 twenty-two books of lead were recovered from the sacred hillside of Sacromonte in Granada Spain, unearthed by treasure seekers no less. [1] These books were later determined forgeries, but it was not until the middle of the 19th century that most historians arrived at this conclusion.  These plates were unearthed after the Moriscos were banished from Granada and forced to settle in France or North Africa.  Moriscos were “nominally catholic descendants of Muslim converts,” [2] some of whom developed a hybrid of the two faiths.  This amalgamation of Catholicism and Islam is found in the various translations of the lead books, supporting the Immaculate Conception, but reducing Jesus to a status outside the Trinity. It is believed that these documents were forged by Moriscos, not only for the purpose of “spiritual survival” and acceptance, but also to “exalt Granada above all the cities in Spain in holiness and antiquity.” [3]

One set of these plates contains a narrative that I find especially interesting and reminiscent of aspects related to Mormonism’s sacred metallic record—the Golden Plates.  The leaden book titled A History of the Certainty of the Holy Gospel, describes Angel Gabriel visiting Mary in her home, and showing her a sacred record, “written by a powerful hand with radiant light on circular tables of precious stones, whose value God alone has knowledge of.”  Mary transcribes the book on “leaden plates, sealed with the seal of Solomon,” and explains that God had ordered her to “do with [the plates] as was done with the tables of Moses; James will bear this copy to an uttermost quarter of the earth, and there he will conceal it in a holy spot where God shall guard it.”  This sacred record would “remain under Gabriel’s protection until the heresies and offences of the world should need the application of the remedy; that those offences and heresies would be disclosed by the hand of a holy priest.”  God will “raise up a lowly creature… who shall explain the Certainty of the gospel in the light of the Holy Ghost.  When all are satisfied, their law shall become a single law, and error and impiety shall be banished from the world.” [4]

Mary gives the tablets and lead plates to Apostle James, saying, “Go with this copy of the tablets of the Certainty, and with this book, unto the seashore.  God shall provide thee with a little boat, whose pilot shall be the angel Gabriel.  When ye arrive in Spain… hide the book and tablets where the dead man comes to life.”   James did as instructed, and as soon as he landed on the shores of Spain “and laid the book and tablets down, the earth began to gape, and from it came a man who said, ‘Why has thou raised me from my tomb, wherein I rested since the time of Moses?”  The story ends by James taking these lead documents, records a history of his own of what had just taken place, and then deposits all of the records in a cave, to wait until the “great priest” shall arise and find them. [5]

[1] A. Katie Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada: Inventing a City’s Past in Early Modern Spain (John Hopkins University Press, 2007), Xi.

[2] Ibid., Xii.

[3] Ibid., Xii.

[4] The English translation quoted here comes from Leonard Williams, Granada: Memories, Adventures, Studies and Impressions (1907), 35.

[5] Ibid., 35-38.


Leaden Books of Sacromonte, Granada Spain — 13 Comments

  1. Fascinating, Mike! I assume the forger had himself in mind when he wrote about the “great priest.” Do we know who this priest was? Also, does the narrative give any indication of who was the dead man that came to life? What rhetorical function does he perform in the narrative?

    Stuff like this is always really fascinating to me. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, too, has a backstory very similar to the Mormon plates. Nothing new under the sun, I suppose. It would be interesting to try to tease out the reasons for each of the parallels. I was particularly intrigued by the statement that one purpose of the plates was to “exalt Granada above all the cities in Spain in holiness and antiquity.” One of my long-term projects is the role of new scriptures as a tool for indigenizing foreign religions and imbuing the local landscape with sacred significance.

  2. Interesting stuff Mike.

    In addition to the Gold Plates parallels, I’m also struck at the parallels to the background and translation of the Parchment of John recorded in D&C 7(LDS). http://classic.scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/7

    Instead of James, it is John that buries a record. Instead of a dead man coming to life, the parchment is about John not tasting of death. Both are buried by apostles. The lead plates were written with “radiant light” while John would become “as a flaming fire.”

    Instead of James recording words from Mary, it is John recording words from Jesus. The plates talk of an unnamed Holy Priest who would put things right, while John would visit Joseph Smith to restore the high priesthood.

    I’m sure there are more parallels. There is an interesting, common thread running through these narratives.

  3. According to Wikipedia, the lead books still exist but are off-limits to researchers. “The lead books were kept in the Vatican, but eventually returned to the Abbey of the Sacromonte in the year 2000. The Church authorities in Granada continue to forbid scholarly access however, on the grounds that the official prohibition remains in force. Current studies depend on the various (often partial and highly contradictory) transcripts and translations made at the time of the books’ discovery, and on some independent decipherments produced by Vatican Arabists.”

  4. This is a fun post Mike. Thank you for sharing. I too find the parallels interesting. I often wonder if the need for these kinds of marvelous plates, codex, parchments or papyri are not the need to create some kind of permanency. With Joseph Smith, was he worried about the loss of faith in his own family and need permanency? Gold plates is about as permanent as one could hope for.

    The comments have been very interesting and informative. Thanks all.

  5. Thanks for the update, Chris. I would really liked to have gotten a glimpse…

    Joe, your mention of the “permanency” suggested by a material artifact is very thought provoking in a number of directions. Thanks for that food for thought…

  6. Between 1800 and 1820, the following work was published 6 times in the United States: ” A Copy of a Letter Written by Our Blessed Lord and Savious Jesus Christ and Found Under a Stone Sixty-Five Years After His Cruxifction.” I have read the 1815 version, which was published in Boston.

  7. Here is the interesting story of the discovery of the Lord’s Letter:

    “And found eighteen miles from Iconium, sixty-five years after our blessed Saviour’s crucifixion; transmitted from the Holy City by a converted Jew; and faithfully translated from the original Hebrew copy, now in possession of the Lady Cuba’s family at Mesopotamia. This letter was written by Jesus Christ and found under a great stone, both round and large, at the foot of the Cross, eighteen miles from Iconium, near a village called Mesopotamia. Upon the stone was written and engraved ‘blessed is he that shall turn me over!’ All people that saw it prayed to God earnestly, and desired he would make known to them the meaning of this writing, that they might not attempt in vain to turn it over. In the mean time there came a little child about six or seven years old, and turned it over without help, to the admiration of all the people that stood by. And under this stone was found a letter written by Jesus Christ, which was carried to the city of Iconium, and there published by a person belonging to the Lady Cuba; and in the letter was written the commandments of Jesus Christ, signed by the angel Gabriel, twenty-eight years after our Saviour’s birth.”

    This version comes from the Southern Magazine, volume 13, 1873. It is identical to other versions one can find in late 19th century periodicals.

    Couple of interesting issues:

    Is the converted Jew Paul? In the Apocryphal Acts of Paul & Thecla, Paul visits Iconium.

    The great round stone is reminiscent of the stone that covered Christ’s tomb it seems to me.

    Interesting is the concern about interpreting the word on the round stone correctly–reminds me of a Book of Mormon reference to a round stone with writing on it.

    A little child turns over the stone with ease. This reminds me of the story of Joseph Smith saying his firstborn child would be the one to translate the record.

    There is a lot of interest here. And it is fascinating that the letter itself repeatedly promises that those who keep a copy in their home will be protected. In this way it is quite like the Pennsylvania Dutch Himmelsbrief, I believe.

  8. It looks like you found the book, Christopher. I orignally read the 1815 version many years ago in the Early American Imprint Series at the University of Utah. This is an old microform series with everything published in the US up to about 1822.