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This 17th century book on theology contains a dark secret…

This seemingly unremarkable 17th century German theology book could actually be straight off a Harry Potter movie set.

The book is supposed to contain the works of Sebastião Barradas, a Portuguese theologian, who died in 1615. But there is nothing godly about this object. The book has a hollowed out interior, which contains a secret compartment designed to hold poisons.

The pages have been pasted together and the cavity contains 10 small drawers, and a mirror-lined compartment holding four glass bottles.

Just like something that might be found in Professor Snape’s potions classroom, each drawer is labelled in German with the name of a poisonous plant – Banewort (Tollkirsche), Devil’s Snare (Stechäpfel), Hemlock (Schierling), Opium (Schlafmohn), Wormwood (Wermut), Henbane (Bilsenkraut), Wolfsbane (Eisenhut), Daphne (Seidelbast) and Foxglove (Fingerhut).

Banewort and Devil’s snare are both part of the deadly nightshade family. Hemlock is highly toxic and was used to execute prisoners in Ancient Greece (Socrates took it to kill himself). Wormwood is a bitter herb and found in absinthe. Henbane is a poisonous plant with hallucinogenic properties that was associated with witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Foxgloves, famous for its purple flowers, are toxic but rarely deadly. Wolfsbane was used to tip poisoned arrows in some cultures. Daphne is a toxic shrub with berries that will make you very ill if eaten.

The cabinet also features a pastedown with a grim Latin quote from Hebrews (9:27): “Statutum est hominibus semel mori” which means ‘All men are destined to die once’.

The book was almost certainly a prank and owned by someone with a very dark sense of humor. Or was it?

This book is for sale from a bookseller in Vienna called Antiquariat INLIBRIS, priced at $10,940.

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