King Charles I
King Charles I of England, who was beheaded in
1648, reportedly became an accidental mummy while buried in St. George's Chapel in
Windsor. In 1813, to make sure that Charles was indeed buried there, his coffin was
opened. Sir Henry Halford, who was present at the examination, described what he saw when
the decapitated head was removed:
"The complexion of the skin was dark and
discolored. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular
substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of
exposure, was open and full, though it vanished almost immediately: and the pointed beard,
so characteristic of this period of the reign of King Charles, was perfect. [The head] was
quite wet, and gave a greenish-red tinge to paper and to linen which touched it. The back
part of the scalp . . . had a remarkably fresh appearance. The hair was thick . . . and in
appearance nearly black. . . . On the back part of the head it was not more than an inch
in length and had probably been cut so short for the convenience of the executioner, or
perhaps . . . to furnish memorials of the unhappy king."
Son of King
A DNA analysis of a dried, mummified heart
has finally provided proof that Louis Charles, the 10-year-old son of
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (both beheaded in the French Revolution)
died in prison and had not escaped from his captors.
Louis Charles, sometimes referred to as the
Dauphin, was placed in Temple prison in 1793. Confined to a dark room,
often without any human contact, the boy developed skin tumors and
scabies. He is also said to have gone crazy before he died in 1795.
Many people hoped that the poor, young
Dauphin had eluded death. Like Anastasia, Louis Charles (it was rumored)
escaped. Over the years, many people claiming to he the Dauphin turned up
in Europe. One man named Charles-Guillaume Naundorff fooled Dutch
authorities so well that. when he died in 1845, his tombstone read that he
was "the true heir to the French throne."
However, scientists have used the dead
boy's mummified heart and a lock of hair from Marie Antoinette to perform
a genetic comparison to put the case to rest for once and for all. Louis
Charles died in prison.
And just how did the heart become
The doctor who performed the autopsy on the
dead child removed the heart and took it home as a souvenir. The rest of
the body was disposed of. But the doctor placed the heart in alcohol to
preserve it. When the alcohol eventually evaporated, the heart dried out.
Despite its condition, researchers were able to take a sample from the
heart to study. (New
York Times, 4/20/00)
Pope John XXIII
The body of Pope John XXIII,
who is credited with modernizing the Roman Catholic Church during his
reign from 1958 to 1963, was not embalmed at the time of his death; instead, as the body of
the Pope lay in state, it was treated with formalin. Then the body was
buried in a grotto under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
In accordance with church tradition, Pope John's body was later exhumed
in preparation for moving him to a new tomb that will be more convenient
and accessible to pilgrims. When the coffin was opened, the dignitaries in
attendance observed the mummy of Pope John XXIII.
"None of the body had
decomposed," according to Cardinal Virgilio Noe, who was the high
priest of St. Peter's Basilica. "It was as if he died yesterday....
He looked tranquil. His mouth was slightly open but he was certainly
tranquil. The serenity he had in life, he took with him to his death and
he still had it 38 years later.... We were able to see once again the
contours of a face that we all loved, the contours that not even death
could erase, the same contours present in the death mask that was
According to Reuters,
"Vatican officials have been careful not to attribute the
preservation of the body directly to a miracle."
Before being placed in
its new tomb, the body was "treated" by experts, though no information about the
"treatment" was provided.
|Mummified by a secret
technique shortly after his death in 1924, Vladimir Lenin's body has remained on display
in a mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. Although his body has to be occasionally
washed with a special liquid, the tell-tale signs of decomposition
are setting in: only his face and hands are still visible to the public; the rest of the
body is covered with a black cloth (a tell-tale sign that the body has decayed).
Even then, his fingertips have turned black and blue. (From the Associated Press, 1/21/99)
|The mummified head of
famous spy Mata Hari is missing from its home at the Museum of
Anatomy in Paris, according to a recent inventory of the museum's holdings. Hari, convicted of spying for
Germany in 1917, was executed that year. She faced a firing squad,
refusing a blindfold. She also was said to have blown a kiss to the
squad members before they fired. Sometime afterward, her head was
removed from her body and taken to the Paris museum which houses the
heads and brains of many other known criminals, among other items. Roger
Saban, the museum's curator, believes that an admirer or
collector somehow walked off with the famous head.
Diego de Velásquez?
is the body of Diego de Velásquez--a 17th century Spanish artist?
Spanish authorities want to know because 1999 is the 400th anniversary of
his birth (it's the Year of Velásquez in Spain) and a more dignified
burial place is planned.
- Velásquez may be a mummy. A forensic
anthropologist in Spain wants to take the fingerprints of a mummy
found below the altar of a church to determine if the mummy might be
that of Velásquez.
To perform such a comparison, researchers
have had to find Velásquez's fingerprint on one of his paintings.
Although they accomplished this, they have written to art museums around
the world asking them to look for other fingerprints. The more
fingerprint samples the researchers have, the higher the probability
that the mummy is Velásquez, if matches are made.
Once the fingerprints are gathered, the next
step is to exhume the body so that the mummy's fingerprints may be taken
and matched. ''The results of this study will be irrefutable
because fingerprint analysis is 100 percent reliable,'' researcher Jose
Manuel Reverte said at a recent seminar, according the Spanish news
Velásquez was thought to be buried under the
floor of the Church of St. John. In the 1800s the church was torn down
and the bodies buried there moved to San Placido Church. The mummy
thought to be Velasquez was discovered in 1994 at San Placido Church by
a group restoring some of the church's art works.
Just this week, the Roman Catholic cardinal
of Madrid agreed to allow the mummified body to be exhumed on 9/9/99.
Initial testing will be done at the University of Madrid, though no
dates for the testing have been given.
- On the other hand, Velásquez may simply be
a skeleton. He was buried with a sword, a black cape and hat in 1660.
Some officials are convinced that the mummy couldn't be Velásquez,
that his body must still remain in the ruins of Church of St. John,
though not beneath the altar. Instead, they believe the body must have
been buried in the middle nave.
So far church excavators have found the
remains of 50 people...but not Velásquez. (New York Times 9/7/99)
about Famous Mummies
No one book has been
written just about mummies of famous people, but a number of books have a
good assortment. These include Christine Quigley's
Mummies. Suitable for
Also worth a read is Heather
Mummy Congress which
includes a stunning chapter about Lenin's mummification (as well as other
Communist attempts at mummification). Other stories are short but worthy
accounts of the mummification of John Paul Jones, Jeremy Bentham, and
Enrico Caruso among others.
Embalmers by Ilya
Zbarsky and Samuel Hutchinson gives
the fascinating and gory details about the mummification of Lenin's body.
written two books that include some information about famous mummies. In
Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein's Brain,
discusses John Paul Jones, often
referred to as the Father of the American Navy (complete with photos of
his mummy), philosopher Jeremy Bentham,
(he wanted to be a mummy, and he got his wish), Stonewall
Jackson's Horse (more of a taxidermist's project than a mummy,
Little Sorrel is exhibited at the Virginia Military Institute), and
(yes) Einstein's brain. In Jumbo's
Hide, Elvis's Ride, and the Tooth of Buddha,
Rachlin tackles Galileo's middle finger
("This is the finger with which the illustrious hand covered the
heavens and indicated their immense space. It pointed to new stars with
the marvelous instrument, made of glass, and revealed them to the senses.
And thus it was able to reach what Titans could never attain" Tommaso
Perelli, 18th Century Italian astronomer. It was cut from Galileo's corpse
in 1737 and is exhibited in Florence, Italy), Jumbo the Elephant (P. T.
Barnum's famous elephant, which managed to earn some money after Jumbo's
demise when he was stuffed and exhibited) the
hoof of Fire Horse Number Twelve (Exactly what it says: the horse
was racing to a fire in 1890 in Washington, D.C. when the fire engine was
hit by another; the horse's hoof was severed, yet it managed to keep its
pace for a half mile to the fire. It is exhibited at the National Museum
of American History in Washington, D.C.).
the most infamous mummy of all is profiled in Mark
McCurdy: The Misadventures in Life and Afterlife of an American Outlaw.