The Elusive Einhorn : Die vier Beucher von der Nachfolge Christi

First impressions, as they say, are everything. At first glance, Die vier Beucher von der Nachfolge Christi (translated from German as “the four books of the following of Christ” with Google Translate) by Thomas à Kempis seemed very gothic and menacing. It was published in 1922 on the Einhorn-Presse, or Unicorn Press. The image shown below is the initial view of the book.

First Impression

After learning the title was dealing with Christianity, the illustrations caused me to feel a bit bewildered since in our time period often people think of Christ as synonymous with love. Generally, one does not think of love depicted in this way but in a more romantic style. Due to this seemingly blatant contradiction, I became curious as to the book’s history. Russell Flinchum generously sat down and explained what he knew. Clarifying my confusion, he revealed that the title was referring to the first four books of the New Testament which are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Referring to the initial view I experienced he told how the four corners of the illustration depicted the four evangelists, the writers of whose namesake the first four books come from (Flinchum). Also mentioned was the term ‘mandorla’ which is the glow in the illustration; it represents holy energy (Flinchum).

This idea of holy energy seemed to be largely the theme of the illustration, echoed in the cosmic nature of its form. The background is comprised of stars, the sun and the moon. My interpretation of the central aspect of the image is that it is a sword; the guard of the sword helps to create one side of a triangle, connected by stars. It is my understanding that the triangle represents the holy trinity of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit, though this is unconfirmed by any source.

Illustration within the book

The illustration is the reason I was drawn to this book, the intricacy of the design reveals nothing at first glance, but upon more research the pieces begin to fit together. The physical nature of the book itself appeared worn. The parchment was discolored, as if spots of coffee had stained it, due to moisture. It felt like a mixture of dust and worn away sandpaper that no longer has its grains. The edges of the book were warped, natured like the crests and troughs of waves. Each page felt heavy, but made no sounds as I turned them as if they were too weary to be noisy. The front cover seemed like an intricate drywall ceiling I’d glimpsed once, but even more ornate. In its center was a golden cross inscribed with Nachfolge Christi, the letters of Nachfolge interlocking. On every page the typeface was printed in uppercase, and the font appeared to be at least similar to Lipsia Antiqua (“1920s”). Russell mentioned how odd it was that this font was used, because in 1922 Germany they used blackletter typeface (Flinchum). This book’s style seems to be very contradictory to its background and subject matter.


Researching this book was tricky; the German translation I came up with through Google Translate and the actual translation differ. The translation found online was “The Succession of Christ” (Wikipedia) which, really, means the same thing but in a different word format. This produced some hesitation on my part, especially since some of the only searches that presented themselves with viable information are Wikipedia and other GD203 students’ writing on this book. Nonetheless, I investigated a few sources to see what was offered.

This Wikipedia page’s first line of information is as follows,


“The Succession of Christ ( De imitatione Christi ) by Thomas a Kempis is a widely used and widely read spiritual book, originally written in Latin. It first appeared anonymously around 1418.”


I think that it is really strange that there aren’t more search results for this book considering its long history. Obviously, in 1922 it was still important enough to have been published in such a fine way, but since our rapid growth into the information age, this book seems to have suffered a decline. According to the same Wikipedia page, “There are over 3,000 different additions, 1,000 of which are in the British Library alone… It is probably the most widely distributed book of Christianity according to the Bible.”

Luckily, another result after Wikipedia was Kline Books, and it showed the (almost) exact copy of the book that our collection houses. The book is advertised as $5,000, but gives specific information on materials of the book (Die Vier). For example, “Original natural gilt lettering on cover and spine housed in yellow paper-covered cardboard slipcase with printed labels on spine. Gilt top edge” (Die Vier).

Patterning for each page

This source also touches on the intention of this book, which I feel is lost under all the embellishments. The Kline Books page mentions, “It is meant to be helpful to the Christian soul, in particular monks, nuns, ascetics, etc. on their way to the union with god” but really, I feel a monk or a nun would have no use for a book as heavy and ornate as this (Die Vier). After reviewing a lecture on Moodle for our course, it was said at the 8 minute mark by Deborah Littlejohn that, “Manuscripts were also made for wealthy clients, and the audience for books was limited to the literate elite of the period. Most people just didn’t know how to read” (Early Writing Systems).

So, to get to the point, why is this book important enough to collect? Why does the British Library have one third of the additions? Why is a hardcover version worth five thousand dollars? No source online clues me in to this, but based on my best judgement I decided it is due to several factors. First, the book was important historically to many people, as can be seen by how many editions were created. It is a strong idea connecting the different nations, crossing borders, joining them for one cause: that of following Christ. Second, the editions made for wealthier owners were made out of costly materials, and had unique imagery that may excite collectors. Third and finally, the book is a glimpse into what was valued in the past. The fact that it has survived so long also makes it of value.

As aforementioned, there weren’t very many search results on the book itself, and generally on the internet it is hard to be unable to find a specific topic. The fact that this is hard to find means many are not knowledgeable of its existence, and it could be that it is not valuable information to people who live today. This does not mean it isn’t an important book. It is obviously still highly valued in an artistic and monetary way but it seems the full value, that of the knowledge it holds, is no longer sought after by our world.




Flinchum, R. (Jan 23, 2020). D.H. Hill Special Collection room. NC State University

“1920s.” Fonts in Use, CARGO,

“Nachfolge Christi.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Feb. 2020,

“Die Vier Buecher Von Der Nachfolge Christi [MONOGRAM BY ILLUSTRATOR].” Eric Chaim Kline, Bookseller,

Littlejohn, D. Early Writing Systems. Lecture accessed through Moodle, at NC State University.

“Early Writing Systems.” Moodle, NC State University,



Discussion — One Response

  • Nathan Adams 03/15/2020 on 10:40 AM

    I too found this to be a fascinating book, drawn also at first glance to the ornately pressed print and the fact that it was written in the German language. On the right page of the picture you have entitled, “First Impression,” I find the design to be somewhat similar to the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) which would once again make sense as it is a huge (literally 515 feet tall at its peaks) testament (yes can be a pun) to the christian faith in the country. Additionally, while the cathedral started to be built in the 13th century, it didn’t officially finish until 1880, around only 40 years before the version of this book was printed. It is entirely reasonable to note these similarities between a monument of faith and another testament to it as both exhibit examples of gothic style. While the Einhorn Press was in Berlin, all of Germany would’ve know of the significance of the Cologne cathedral because of it being the tallest building in the world around the time of its completion; the size perhaps of both the book and the cathedral are analogous to the size of the subject and faith they attempt to honor. Thusly, I found this particular tome to exhibit cultural influences of great importance to those reading it in the native German. The interaction between the designs of the world and the designs of the printed word exhibit a willingness to borrow and share, for what is truly an impressive printed book.

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