Fortunately, the advance of technology has allowed us to have memories of our loved ones through images, videos, or audio that we store on some device or in the cloud, but we know that several centuries ago that did not exist.
Because of this, some people preferred to create much more personal and tangible objects with the essence of the people they said goodbye to, although in ways that today would be considered grotesque and chilling. One of them was the technique of anthropodermic bibliopegy, which combined the act of binding a book using… human skin.
Anthropodermic bibliopegy: the chilling art of binding books with human skin
In some archives and museums, such as the Harvard Law Library, there are some copies that used the technique of anthropodermic bibliopegy, so they have bindings made with real human skin.
One of them is the volume “Practicarum Quaestionum Circa Leges Regias Hispaniae”, which, according to a national circulation magazine, is a treatise on Spanish laws to which a inscription was added on the last page confirming that the book was made with the skin of a real person.
Bibliopegia antropodérmica, una de las artes del libro más curiosas y macabras que se conocen, encuadernar libros con piel humana. Aunque en la actualidad es una práctica extremadamente inusual, alcanzó su momento de esplendor en el siglo XVII. pic.twitter.com/o4P1NqeVKa
— Curiotweet (@Curiotweet1) February 25, 2023
“The cover of this book is a remembrance of my dear friend, Jonas Wright, who was skinned alive by the Wavuma tribe on August 4, 1632. King Btesa gave me the book, which was one of Jonas’s most important possessions, along with a good portion of his skin, to cover it. Rest in peace,” reads the text.
This practice of binding books with human skin was very popular between the 17th and 19th centuries, especially in several regions of France and England, either because a person’s family wanted to remember them with a very personal object, or even as a form of punishment against some wrongdoer.
In fact, there are records that some guillotined nobles during the French Revolution were skinned to bind copies of the Constitution, as a kind of strange trophy of victory and the effort involved in rising up against the bourgeoisie.
In the UK, on the other hand, the skin of executed criminals was used in books that narrated their vile acts, or in volumes about legal proceedings in which the guilty had been implicated, such as one that narrates the crime of William Corder, who murdered his lover in 1827, which is preserved in the Bury St. Edmunds Museum in England.
La BIBLIOPEGIA ANTROPODÉRMICA fue la inusual práctica de encuadernar libros con piel humana, de condenados a muerte o cadáveres desconocidos.
Se extendió en los círculos médicos del S XVIII y desapareció en la 2GM.
Existen ~20 libros cuya encuadernación "humana" está verificada. pic.twitter.com/XxYsqULRWR
— Nao Casanova (@NaoCasanova) June 28, 2021
Myths and Legends behind Anthropodermic Bibliopegy
It is said that some Nazis also used the technique of anthropodermic bibliopegy to punish some of their enemies, but there are no real data or conclusive evidence to prove that this actually happened.
And to make the matter even more macabre, there is a legend about it that links one of the books of the most popular horror writer of all time, H. P. Lovecraft, and his most popular book, “The Necronomicon”, a text that narrates the existence of another book that apparently safeguards arcane knowledge and black magic, and according to legend, drives those who read it insane.
It is said that Lovecraft’s most personal volume from this book was bound, precisely, with human skin, but this fact was never verified, so everything has remained as a macabre myth.