At a university in Sweden, an ancient mummified corpse is seeing the light of day for the third time in nearly 350 years. But as scientists scan the body, they find something they never expected lurking inside the coffin.
In 2013 the coffin of a 17th-century bishop was disinterred from the cathedral in Lund, Sweden. The plan was to rebury him in the city’s Norra Kyrkogården cemetery – but history had other ideas.
While the bishop was disinterred, scientists at Lund University took the opportunity to take a closer look at the 334-year-old remains. They hoped that the body, which was amazingly well preserved, would provide them with some interesting insights into the past.
But when the researchers performed a CT scan on the remains, they were in for a big shock. Why? Because they discovered that the bishop had been sharing his coffin with a surprise guest for all those years.
Born all the way back in 1605, Peder Winstrup became the bishop of Lund in 1638. Interestingly, back then the city was part of the region of Scania while also being partially controlled by the Danish empire.
Over the years, Winstrup saw many changes, including the transfer of control of the region to the kingdom of Sweden. He kept his role as bishop, though, and even successfully petitioned the king of Sweden to open a university in the city.
The recent analysis on his body has revealed, however, that Winstrup suffered from poor health. Indeed, he was variously afflicted by gout, gallstones, heart problems and arthritis. By the time he died in 1679, then, he was a thin, frail and sickly man.
Subsequently, Winstrup was interred in the same cathedral where he had served as bishop – and that should have been the end of his story. However, in 1833 he was unexpectedly thrust back into the limelight.
A partial demolition of Winstrup’s crypt revealed that the bishop’s body had not decayed as expected. Instead, the corpse inside the coffin had been mummified and was surprisingly intact.
So, a portrait was drawn of the bishop’s mummified body, and the crypt was resealed. Later, in 1923, archaeologists opened Winstrup’s coffin once again, this time to get a black-and-white photograph of the intriguing remains.
After that, Winstrup was left in peace for almost a century. Then, in 2013, the cathedral gained permission to move the bishop’s body to a cemetery outside the city. But when scientists grabbed the opportunity to take a closer look, they were amazed by what they found.
First, investigations revealed that, despite appearances, Winstrup had not been traditionally embalmed. Instead, scientists believe, a combination of the cool temperature in the crypt, herbs placed in the coffin and the absence of fat on the bishop’s body after his long illness all contributed to the astonishing preservation.
What’s more, the researchers also discovered that all of Winstrup’s internal organs were intact. And further investigation suggested that the bishop had been bedridden for a long period of time leading up to his death.
But that wasn’t all. While performing a CT scan on the mummified body, scientists discovered a surprising guest in the coffin. Astonishingly, hidden in the herbs at the bishop’s feet was the body of a human fetus, estimated to have been between five and six months old.
“Actually he has a companion,” Per Karsten of the Lund University Historical Museum told The Daily Mail. “There is a small child – a fetus of a human child. It has been deliberately concealed under his feet at the bottom of the coffin.”
Back in the 17th century, many believed that babies who were not carried to term would be damned to an eternity spent in limbo. Consequently, some people have speculated that such a belief could explain the mysterious presence of the extra body in the bishop’s coffin.
Undoubtedly, it’s possible that a desperate mother may have persuaded a church official to smuggle in the baby’s remains to their spot alongside the bishop. Why so? Well, in the belief that such a burial would ensure her child’s soul a place in heaven. An alternative theory is that someone who was close to the bishop and hoped to hide a shameful secret had hidden the body in the coffin before it was buried.
Meanwhile, there has also been speculation that the baby might have been related to the bishop in some way. Indeed, the university had plans to conduct DNA tests on both bodies to determine whether or not any kinship exists.
In any case, in December 2015 Winstrup’s mummified remains went on public display for the first time, shown as they were at the Lund Univeristy Historical Museum. As a result, more than 3,500 people queued to catch a glimpse of the famous corpse.
Then, after his brief public outing – which lasted just one day – Winstrup was reinterred in the northern tower of the cathedral. The unknown baby was buried alongside him, too, continuing the curious arrangement that has bonded the pair for almost three and a half centuries.