Cryptic Chronicles: Unraveling the Mysterious Burial of 17th Century Bishop Peder Winstrup

This is one of the best-preserved mummies in Europe. A 17th-century individual can hardly be seen in this condition: nose, ears, and toenails still visibly; the shroud with its folds and ties; hands with their nails…

His corpse was not embalmed; it was mummified naturally for more than three hundred years. His organs are perfectly intact… and he suffered from all kinds of ailments: cardiovascular diseases, gallstones, Forester-Roth spots disease, gout, diabetes, tooth decay, and probably tuberculosis. He died bedridden on his own, at 74 years of age.

Per Winstrup was born in 1605 in Copenhagen and in 1679 he was buried in Lund Cathedral, in southern Sweden. He was appointed bishop of the cathedral and was one of the founding fathers of Lund University. Winstrup was a Renaissance man: he carried out scientific experiments and was an architect and book printer, among other things.

He was buried in a family vault in Lund Cathedral. In 1833, the high choir of the temple and part of the family pantheon were demolished. Winstrup’s coffin was opened, and the body was found to be in an exceptional state of preservation. His coffin, and many others, were transferred to the scientists of the crypt. Then to the north tower. And then to the south tower. Then the medieval towers of the cathedral were pulled down. Winstrup’s coffin was finally moved to the north chapel of the crypt in 1875. How on earth has it been so well preserved?

“For five reasons: because he was mummified naturally with dry air; because he died in December and was buried in January, the coldest months of the year; because of the location he suffered before being buried for two years; because of the presence of the plants deposited next to the corpse, which probably protected it from insects; and because of the constant temperature and humidity in the crypts,” explains Per Karsten, director of the Lund University Historical Museum, to National Geographic History.

Winstrup’s corpse was examined in 1923 and in November 2013, ninety years later. Again the coffin had to be moved, this time to the northern cemetery of the cathedral. A team of researchers was able to examine the body for fifteen months. “The pillow and mattress were filled with plants and vegetables that gave off a very strong odor, probably to mask the smell of the corpse, but also to preserve it. There were lavender, mint, hops, juniper berries…” Kristen lists. A CT scan was then performed… and the results were staggering.

A featured appearance Wistrup’s feat. “It probably belonged to a girl in her fourth or fifth month of pregnancy and there was surely a case of abortion. I think a member of the bishopric hid the fetus in the coffin during the organization of the bishop’s funeral. We are waiting for DNA tests to determine if there is a link between the bishop and the fetus,” reveals Kristen.

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