The Glyphs

     The glyphs predate the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in Canada in the 1600s. Father Chr├ętien le Clercq, a Catholic missionary in Quebec, was responsible for bringing the glyphs to the world’s attention in the 17th century. In 1677 le Clercq used these symbols to form a fully functioning writing system in which to transcribe prayers. His successor, Father Maillard, further revised the system and it began to be widely used as a device to convert the Indigenous peoples of the area. Maillard also oversaw the production of the Micmac prayer book, a hieroglyph manuscript which continued to be copied by hand for 100 years. In 1866 Christian Kauder, a European-born priest had the book printed in Vienna and printed as a second version in 1922.

     Of course the original symbols created by the Mic Mac and Maliseet had been ‘adjusted’ and reinterpreted by the priests to dispel original references to Indigenous gods and other ecumenical ideologies. Our task here is to provide free access to the individual glyphs for use by everyone. It is our hope that artists, writers and educators might use these images to reinterpret the ‘interpretations’ the priests undertook of the glyphs and possibly imbue a modern sensibility ... to instill a new life to these beautiful designs.

     There are over 2,300 glyphs. Our archive includes over 4,200 images as many are duplicated from prayer to prayer. Each glyph or 'glyph grouping' has a specific interpretation that focuses on Catholic notions. In the downloadable Hieroglyph Archive.exe below we have broken down the glyphs by prayer as per Kauder's book and placed them in corresponding folders including a German to English translation of each prayer's name as a point of reference. We'll leave it up to the user to find the actual entire English prayer that correspond to the prayers in Kauder's book as many of these may have changed slightly since 1922.


The Rising
dry pigment, conte on paper, 2013


The Morning Meditation
dry pigment, conte, ink on paper, 2013

     We have taken some liberties at interpreting some of these glyphs sans the Catholic reference in an attempt to use them in everyday descriptions and writings. In an exhibition entitled “River Cantatas” we took the liberty of re-interpreting the glyphs into a series of works based on the Wolastoq / St. John River. It is postured that the original glyphs were inspired by the suckerfish patterns formed on the river bottom which we've made reference to in the exhibition. Click here for the web page. Special thanks to the Canada Council for making this page available.

Download the original Kauder manuscript here, it is available in pdf, epub and djvue formats.

Click Hieroglyph Archive.exe for the jpg images, file size is 91mb.


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