Baby found hidden in coffin of mummified 17th-century bishop

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By Mark Ellis

Mummified bishop
Mummified bishop

Scientists in Sweden were astounded to find the body of a small baby beneath the feet of a mummified bishop who died in the 17th century.

A CT scan of the exceptionally-well preserved remains of Bishop of Lund, Peder Winstrup, revealed a six-month-old fetus beneath his feet in his coffin, according to a story by Christian Today.

The baby may not be related to the bishop but may be that of a woman who lost the child through miscarriage, Per Karsten, director of the Lund University museum told Christian Today.

At that time, there was no baptism for miscarried babies. It was thought that their souls were lost for eternity and could never enter heaven.

In the five weeks between the bishop’s death and his funeral, the mother might have bribed a church official to bury her lost baby with the bishop, with the thought that this would ensure his or her entrance to heaven, it was theorized.

Winstrup’s body is one of the best preserved from that time period, with all his organs intact. Scientists are studying his remains to provide facts about the conditions of people in that area during the 17th century, according to Christian Today.

Winstrup (1605-1679) was inaugurated as Bishop of Lund in 1638, which at that time was still Danish.

“He was a skilled navigator in the political landscape and was able to retain his position after the violent transition of the eastern Danish provinces to Sweden,” Dr Karsten told Christian Today. He also founded a university in Lund.

The remains in the coffin are a time capsule of “immense importance,” Dr Karsten noted.

Apparently, the body was not embalmed but was preserved naturally, due to its placement on a mattress of juniper, wormwood, hops and other plants and herbs. Dr Karsten said there will be DNA testing on the baby and the bishop to see if they are related, according to Christian Today.

“This is real tale from the crypt. What was the purpose of putting this little human fetus in the coffin? Is there a relationship between the bishop and child or does the answer lie somewhere else?” he noted.

Dr. Karsten conjectures that a member of the bishop’s staff hid the child in the coffin while planning the funeral. Winstrup died in December 1679 but was not buried until 1680. “There was plenty of time to hide this child in the coffin without the family knowing.”

He said it was a common practice in Scandinavia in the 1600s for mothers to bribe cemetery workers to include their unbaptized babies’ bodies in a coffin of another burial. Some mothers even managed to have the babies entombed inside church walls. “This could have been way to make sure the baby could still get to the other side and not be lost,” Dr. Karsten told Christian Today.

The bishop’s coffin, in Lund cathedral since his burial at the end of the 17th century, was moved to the museum in 2014 for scientific study. The bishop will be reburied at the cemetery in Lund in December this year, along with the baby.