June 21, 2015 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Scan of mummified body of Swedish bishop reveals baby hidden in coffin. [The Guardian]
For almost 350 years Bishop Peder Winstrup lay quietly in his coffin in the crypt of the magnificent cathedral at Lund in Sweden, concealing a secret: the body of a tiny baby, tucked in under his feet. The little corpse, believed to be of a baby born several months prematurely, was revealed for the first time when scientists scanned the coffin and the mummified body of Peder Winstrup, believed to be one of the best preserved 17th-century bodies in Europe.
posted by Fizz (27 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
From the article:
Although the colours have faded, his clothes were also perfectly preserved, including a velvet cape and leather gloves.
Please be a 17th C. Batman!
Please be a 17th C. Batman!
Please be a 17th C. Batman!

posted by Fizz at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

17th century Swedish coffin babies, we make our dreams come true
17th century Swedish coffin babies, we'll do the same for you
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2015 [16 favorites]

Also, relevant.
posted by Fizz at 3:12 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Am I some sort of sap that finds this (albeit fascinating) incredibly sad?
posted by Iteki at 3:15 PM on June 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

I will admit that my first, second, third and fourth thought all involved the Catholic church and molestation. Perhaps my fifth as well, but by then I had read down to where someone had perhaps merely secreted the baby's remains in there to give them a burial in Christian ground.
posted by nevercalm at 3:27 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm sure it is sad in some ways, but for me it represents a happy ending. How happy it must have made the person who secreted that premature and dead infant in such a secure and sacred spot. I am going to pretend that his or her parents found comfort in their child's secret resting place. Also, human inability and our ability to sneak around rules never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:38 PM on June 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

Showed this to my partner:

"That's a great corpse! That's my favourite corpse I've seen in a while!"

This is the guy who kept me in the Paris catacombs for over two hours because all of the skulls were really awesome.
posted by terretu at 3:46 PM on June 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

I'm wondering if it was his own illegitimate child. People seem to have popped infants, especially premature ones, in their ancestors' or other relations' tombs quite regularly - Mary Queen of Scots shares her tomb with a number of her premature great-great-great-grandchildren and I'm sure I've read of similar situations for others. But I also like the idea of a wee illegitimate baby being given burial in sacred ground this way.
posted by andraste at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

I don't think it was official doctrine, but for a very long time Catholics believed stillborn or premature unbaptised infants went to Limbo. Even today, I don't believe there is an "official" path to heaven for an unbaptised child, but instead the parents must trust to the mercy of God. (Some priests will baptise stillborn infants, but it is not doctrine.) Until recently, an unbaptised infant was not allowed to be buried on Church grounds.

I find this an incredibly sad story, because I see a mother who somehow wanted to help her child get to Heaven, and trusted the bishop to intercede on its behalf.
posted by frumiousb at 4:15 PM on June 21, 2015 [28 favorites]

Metafilter: That's a great corpse!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:25 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

It reminds me of when you go to the supermarket and they have these little bottles of mouthwash attached to the regular ones. So, yeah: bonus bishop! Same price!
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2015 [19 favorites]

He was Luthern. His father was a Bishop too. His mother married his father's replacement. He himself may have been married. But Wiketannica didn't say.
posted by njohnson23 at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2015

frumiousb: "Until recently, an unbaptised infant was not allowed to be buried on Church grounds. "

Yes, I assumed the baby died almost immediately if it was "several months premature" and probably wasn't baptized, rather than illegitimacy. (And denying baptism for illegitimacy wasn't all that common ... souls need saving regardless of where they came from, so it's not that often in Western Christian history have various churches gone around refusing baptism to children with irregular parentage. Inheritance laws were of course much harsher.) I've read baptismal manuals and pregnancy manuals from the middle ages that recommended that if a woman was in extremely premature labor, the midwife baptize the baby on its way out of the birth canal (as soon as its nose and mouth are free so it can take a breath, for example, it could "count") so that if the child died upon birth, you had a chance to get that baptism done while the child was still alive from being attached to the mother. Just in case. One such formula began, "If thou art alive, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father ... ." There were even formulas in case you weren't sure if what you were delivering was a human, demon, cancer, teratoma, or what have you -- "If thou art a man, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father ..." -- but you watched to baptize it anyway just in case. Most of them suggested the midwife do the emergency baptism but a few recommended calling the priest who would get in there in front of the midwife and emergency baptize whatever was emerging from your vagina and THEN the midwife could get back to work, which seems it probably increased the mortality rate on difficult deliveries, but whatever, dark ages and all.

Or just that they didn't want the baby to be lonely. I'm not super-worried about what happens to my mortal remains when I'm done with them, but the idea of a dead child buried ALONE is very upsetting to me. My grandparents got a pair of double-stacker graves (that is, two together that are each two deep) in case one of their grandchildren died before adulthood (one has a chronic illness), and that thought has always been EXTREMELY comforting to me. (Even though I would think it was ever so slightly silly if an adult cared who they were buried next to!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:50 PM on June 21, 2015 [25 favorites]

I can't help but think of this as a successfully executed caper that brought comfort to grieving patents.
posted by bleep at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

how is babby interred?
how is babby interred?
how bishop get coffin-buddy?
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:26 PM on June 21, 2015 [16 favorites]

This is the reason you have to take off your shoes and get patted down before you can enter the kingdom of heaven.
posted by dr_dank at 7:28 PM on June 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Remarkable to see the mummified face of a modern person who had a real portrait for us to compare it to. I was an archaeology major, so I'm used to mummies who had no portraits, or else idealized portraits with only slight resemblances. It makes me a little uneasy, as if the Bishop is on the wrong side of the line that we WEIRD folks have set for "people it is okay to dig up." But then, this is an entirely cultural line in any case, and I am not the one to guess where it is here.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:29 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've always been conflicted about scientist examining long buried corpses. I understand the importance and significance, but don't the dead have a right to be left alone? I wouldn't feel the same way about a 4,000 year old mummy, though, so I realize my concern is just a personal hangup. Still, if this guy's coffin had a Do Not Disturb Sign on the front, would it matter? Would it just be ignored, because the dead have no rights unless they have relatives willing to raise a legal stink?
posted by Beholder at 8:46 PM on June 21, 2015

"so I realize my concern is just a personal hangup"

Not just yours, many pharoahs from the Valley of the Kings were re interned into one tomb by priests because of grave robbers.
posted by clavdivs at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2015

Do the dead have rights at all? What do they need rights for? It seems to me that any rights the dead might have are really the rights of relatives to not be upset by what they might see as undignified treatment of the remains of their relatives.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:10 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the dead have the right to not be maliciously fucked with and relatives/ancestors have the right to peace but otherwise scientists have to be able to do their science thing.
posted by bleep at 9:38 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find the story both sad AND sweet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:07 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Forty years ago I was born four months premature and was expected to die at birth (as that was happened pretty much 100% of the time for children born that young back then) , so my very Catholic parents baptised me as soon as I basically drew breath. My interpretation of this 17 century baby is that it's parents were attempting to make sure it went to heaven and not limbo. I admire their ingenuity and I'm pretty sure God isn't as much a stickler for the rules as we think He is.
posted by Jubey at 10:38 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

The vestibule of Heaven. Divine radiance permeates everything, including the billowing clouds underfoot. SAINT PETER has been making notes in a gigantic book resting on a lectern. He rises from his stool to greet BISHOP WINSTRUP.

PETER: My dear Bishop! How glad we are to have you here, in the home of the Blessed! Welcome, a thousand times welcome, come inside, grab a halo and meet The Boss.

WINSTRUP approaches the Pearly Gates with an odd, shuffling motion.

PETER: Hold on ... what is that at your feet?
PETER: Is there something between your legs?
WINSTRUP: No ... no ... just the way I'm standing.
PETER: Yes there is! Under your robes! Look, it's all wrapped up in a blanket!

WINSTRUP shuffles around in a circle, unconvincingly.

WINSTRUP: I'm afraid I can't see anything.
PETER: It's an unbaptised infant! We can't have that here! Give it to me!

PETER dives for the baby. WINSTRUP hoists up his robes to reveal his bare legs and a swaddled baby. He hoists the baby with his toes and bounces it off his knee. As PETER tries to intercept the baby WINSTRUP spins around and kicks it through the pearly gates, where a cherub catches it. Rays of divine light shine down, and trumpets and hosannas welcome the new saint.

PETER: Nice goal. I'd invite you to join our team, if we had one.
WINSTRUP: Surely the Beautiful Game is played in heaven, too?
PETER: I wish, but we can't find an umpire.

WINSTRUP nods sadly and passes through the Pearly Gates.

posted by Joe in Australia at 12:54 AM on June 22, 2015 [32 favorites]

Aaaaaaaand I think this thread is done.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:26 AM on June 22, 2015

I'm so excited to see this article because I was in this very crypt in Lund just in May.
posted by peacheater at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2015

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